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Dec 13th
Last Gasp for Parcel B PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer   
August 2017

County commissioners poised to hand waterfront land to Cuban exile group

OParcelB_1n July 17, a ribbon-cutting ceremony took place behind the AmericanAirlines Arena. During that event, Miami-Dade County officials acknowledged completion of the first phase of a $396,000 project that added new grass, 42 Green Malayan coconut trees, park benches, trash cans, and electrical infrastructure on a 2.75-acre, county taxpayer-owned piece of waterfront land known as Parcel B. The second phase will involve the installation of lights.

“This green space will serve as open space for residents and visitors,” said Maria Nardi, the county’s incoming parks director, at the ceremony.

The event, attended by a couple of dozen people, had all the trappings of a celebratory opening of a new park. But Parcel B isn’t a park as far as the county is concerned. It’s a piece of land overseen by the county’s Internal Services Department. It may also soon become the site of a 90,000-square foot Cuban Exile History Museum.

Miami-Dade County commissioners will likely vote on legislation that would enable Cuban Exile History Museum Inc. to build a museum on Parcel B sometime between September and December, confirms José Galan, director of real estate development for the county’s Internal Services Division.

But county Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, whose district includes the AmericanAirlines Arena and Parcel B, says she hopes to persuade her colleagues to preserve Parcel B as a park. Failing that, Edmonson says she intends to push for a three-year deadline on how long the museum group has to raise the private funds it needs to build its facility.

“My desire is to keep it as a park,” says Edmonson, who referred to Parcel B as “Dan Paul Park” during the ceremony. Pro-park activist groups like Emerge Miami, the Urban Environment League of Greater Miami, and Scenic Miami often call the Parcel B land Dan Paul Park, after the renowned attorney who championed public access to the waterfront prior to his death in 2010. Paul was also a fierce critic of the construction of the $210 million AmericanAirlines Arena for the Miami Heat on land that had been slated for park.

ParcelB_2Back in 1996, then-mayor Alex Penelas and county officials promised voters they would turn Parcel B into a waterfront park. Instead the county and the Miami Heat’s owners used the property to stage events and park cars during concerts and games. County officials backed various plans to build upon the land. Although a $6.1 million seawall, with a bay walk and bike path, was built at taxpayer expense in 2011, the land was almost entirely fenced off by the Miami Heat to dissuade visitors. (See “County Commission Cabal” in the June issue of the BT for more details on the history of Parcel B.)

The Cuban Exile History Museum is the latest scheme to build on Parcel B. In July 2014, over the objections of parks advocates, the county commission voted 8-3 to direct county staff to negotiate both a lease and a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, with Cuban Exile History Museum Inc. (CEHM), a group that has vowed to raise the estimated $125 million in private funds to build a museum building designed by architect Robert Chisholm.

Edmonson points out that CEHM has already had more than three years to raise funds to build a museum, but to no avail.

Nicolas J. Gutierrez, secretary of CEHM Inc.’s board of directors, counters that his organization has raised some of the money. However, for fundraising to really take place, Gutierrez claims, his group must show potential donors that they have a commitment from the county to use Parcel B in the form of a 55-year-lease. Under such a proposed lease, Gutierrez claims, the CEHM would only pay one dollar a year

The Memorandum of Understanding, on the other hand, would require CEHM to raise the funds needed to build their museum within a certain amount of time, José Galan explains. Both the MOU and the lease will be voted on by county commissioners simultaneously, he adds.

“Conservatively, we have 10 votes out of the 13 [commissioners],” Gutierrez claims, adding that he’s hopeful to have a county commission vote in October. “This is going to pass whether Edmonson supports it or not.”

On June 21, Edmonson held a “sunshine meeting” with CEHM representatives and one of the museum’s supporters, Commission chairman Esteban Bovo regarding the terms of the MOU and lease. (Bovo didn’t return an e-mail from the BT by deadline.) Gutierrez, though, confirms that Edmonson has been pushing for a three-year deadline, which begins once the MOU is approved. That may not be enough time, Gutierrez asserts.

“We want to do it in less than three years, but we don’t want to be under the gun to do it in under three years,” Gutierrez says. “We’d like to have a five-year period.”

Gutierrez insists that the museum, as designed by Chisholm, would be an asset to the public and the Miami Heat. The design, he says, would include a parking facility for the Heat and would only occupy an acre of land. The rest of Parcel B would become a “Freedom Park” with basketball courts, tennis courts, and mini-soccer fields “that will be built at our expense.” The museum, meanwhile, would have exhibition space, a 300-seat theater, a Cuban restaurant, and a promenade “for book fairs and farmer’s markets.”

“A green passive park? We don’t believe that’s sustainable,” Gutierrez explains, “because it has no economic activities to sustain it. Ours does.”

Alyce Robertson, executive director of the Miami Downtown Development Authority, was present at the Parcel B ribbon cutting. She tells the BT that the DDA hasn’t formed a formal opinion on Parcel B’s future. Yet during an informal vote last year, most DDA board members preferred to see Parcel B remain as passive open space.

In response to the list of all the amenities and activities that Gutierrez claims a museum will bring to the land, Robertson waves her hand at the downtown skyline

“See all those buildings?” she asks. “Lots of opportunities for restaurants and other uses. We have so little green space in downtown Miami, so the more we can keep the better.”

 

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