Finish the job, create Museum Park

Rendering depicts the vision for the grand entrance to Museum Park.
Rendering depicts the vision for the grand entrance to Museum Park. Cooper Robertson/Civitas

The Pérez Art Museum Miami has opened its doors, and its bay view, to great acclaim. The adjacent Frost Museum of Science is on track to open next summer. Both institutions are in the process of restoring what was unused and forbidding public property —the former Bicentennial Park — into one of the most attractive and welcoming places in downtown Miami.

All it took was broad community support, philanthropic generosity and the leadership of elected officials.

But the job isn’t done just yet: All three have the opportunity to again combine to create what could be Miami’s “signature park” — Museum Park.

The community support is building, and many generous donors are on board. On Thursday, the Miami City Commission can provide the leadership giving its initial backing to creating, and partnering with, the Museum Park Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that would be the primary fundraiser and manager of the park. Then, each side can begin the process of ensuring that any agreement, first and foremost, protects one of the city’s premier properties and allows the city to maintain control over this asset. It’s encouraging that conservancy advocates make clear that the land will remain in public hands and that residents’ input will be the guide for creating a lush, green “signature park” for visitors and for residents, whether they live in the highrises across Biscayne Boulevard, in Allapattah or in historic Coconut Grove. This can be the park all Miamians deserve.

This park has been a ‘dream’ for far too long.

At the same time, the conservancy model, which has had solid successes with legendary Central Park in New York and Millennium Park in Chicago, would allow the city to follow through on a vision it signed on to in 2008, only to have it all fall through when the economy headed south. In addition, the conservancy has the ability to secure public funding — from the state, county and city — to create the park and philanthropic donations to maintain it. This would relieve the city of much of the heavy lifting and provide the expertise to bring it all to fruition. Throughout the process, advocates such as Rebecca Mandelman, working with the Miami Foundation, which, along with the Knight Foundation, are taking the lead in ensuring the conservancy model is understood and successful here.

The involvement of these foundations, which have shown decades of commitment to improving people’s quality of life in greater Miami, should allay concerns as the feasibility of the conservancy. In fact, more than $7.5 million in philanthropic donations already have been pledged.

The land in question is a huge, sun-exposed, underused, grassy — and basically boring — expanse of land to the south of PAMM and the Frost. Given its waterfront location, the thousands of visitors who could be drawn there after a day at the museums and the local residents from across the community that would seek respite there, its current condition clearly is not the highest and best use of this public property.

The property is managed by the Bayfront Park Management Trust, which sometimes stages revenue-raising events there. The Trust receives no city funding, says Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo, who is its current chair. He has reasonable concerns about what he says is “giving away too much power and giving away waterfront property based on a dream.”

Indeed, Miami taxpayers have been burned by giveaways of their public lands. Watson Island development was stalled for years, with no promise of a return on investment in today’s dollars. Marlins Park has yet to become the economic engine for its neighborhood as originally envisioned.

If city commissioners agree — and they should — to move forward on Thursday, such concerns can be addressed, and consensus reached.

This park has been a “dream” for far too long, and the city alone has not made any move to bring it to life, instead squandering this prime asset. It’s time to consider letting a Museum Park Conservancy take the lead to make this dream something real.