|Quaint, Quiet, and Shady|
|Written by Janet Goodman, BT Contributor|
Miami Shores Optimist Park has been cautious about change
Optimist International is a volunteer service organization with members worldwide. Its mission is to help kids become the best they can be “by providing hope and positive vision.” Since 1911, Optimist Clubs have sponsored youth-oriented activities in their communities.
The Miami Shores Optimist Club was founded in 1939 and early on went to work on building and equipping a boys’ clubhouse in the Pinewood Park neighborhood of Miami at NW 95th Street and NW 6th Court.
By the early 1970s, according to Jerry Lance, owner of Dart Maintenance (a BT advertiser) and president of the Miami Shores Optimist Club from 1981-2005, the chapter wanted to do something specifically for its hometown. So it encouraged Miami Shores Village, which did not want another park to manage at the time, to turn a Village-acquired piece of property located downtown at 204 NE 94th Street into a park. The Optimists donated money to the Village and in 1973 established Optimist Park.
The chapter erected the masonry park signage and the founding stone with its bronze plaque, poured concrete walkways and perimeter sidewalks, placed seating benches throughout, and planted trees. In the early years, the chapter also maintained the park by mowing grass, trimming foliage, and doing whatever else needed to be done.
Today, says village manager Tom Benton, Optimist Park is managed and maintained by the parks division within Miami Shores Public Works Department. Benton has worked for the Village for 45 years and can’t recall specific Village-sponsored events or activities taking place in this half-acre greenspace. Neither can interim recreation director Angela Dorney. “Since I have been here, almost 22 years,” she says, “we haven’t incorporated Optimist Park in any events, and at this time, I know of no future events to be held there.”
The question was brought up for discussion during a 2010 Village Council meeting, when then Vice Mayor Prospero Herrera suggested Optimist Park as a good location for a sculpture garden, but it never came to pass. In 2013 the park was discussed as a possible site for a dog park during a Village Recreation Advisory Board meeting. Minutes of the meeting state that the late recreation director, Jerry Estep, noted it was a passive park, too small for an off-leash dog park. The board acknowledged that the park was underutilized.
Three years later, at the March 1, 2016, Village Council meeting, current Mayor Alice Burch again brought up for discussion locating a dog park or a dog-friendly park at Optimist. Public comments were for and against.
Owners of two residential properties adjacent to the park voiced their opposition. Councilman Mac Glinn was hesitant to approve of any dog park close to residential property, and Councilwoman Herta Holly did not believe there was a need for a dog park since community homeowners have backyards and sidewalks for walking dogs.
Jerry Lance spoke out that night about the Optimist Club’s contributions to the park. “The original intent was that the park was for everyone, not just dog owners. It wasn’t donated as a dog park,” Lance tells the BT. He has seen families and individuals enjoy the tranquility of the greenspace and would hate to see it taken over by dogs.
But the council did approve having village staff research the costs of making several Shores parks dog friendly, with the installation of pet waste stations and signage, and their maintenance. Today Optimist Park, as well as Constitution Park and Bayfront Park, are all officially Miami Shores dog-friendly (on-leash) parks, and the Village’s first fenced-in dog park is under construction on Biscayne Boulevard at the entrance of the Aquatic Center.
The two pet waste stations now at Optimist Park are truly minimal changes in a park that hasn’t seen major improvements in over a decade. But what does it really need? The small property has massive signature oaks shading the center of the park, and stains from them on the encircling decorative stamped concrete walkway are pressure-washed twice a year by Public Works, as witnessed by the BT in late October.
There are four green metal benches situated around the circle, which are occupied with people eating lunches outdoors during the workweek.
A bus stop is located in front of the park along 2nd Avenue, as are garbage receptacles, additional benches, two bike lock stations, and charming vintage street lamps erected by the Village in recent years. Longtime neighboring resident Bob Smith has enjoyed the park since its inception, pointing out the bordering mango, melaleuca, and the flowering bauhinia tree (Hong Kong orchid tree), as well as other reasons to love the park.
“When the oak trees were lighted 10 or 15 years ago, the park’s screech owls left,” says Smith. “But since the Village turned off the lights, the owls have come back. To the Village’s credit, they also keep this place clean and free of litter.”
Another possible change to come to sleepy Optimist Park is the Village’s hopeful acquisition of an adjacent residential property. The owner is deceased and the property is in probate. On September 6, 2016, the Village Council approved staff to bid on the property, not to exceed $650,000.
According to village manager Benton, “Village attorney Richard Sarafan is working on the process to where we can put in a bid, filing appropriate legal papers when it’s cleared probate. Council would have to decide what they want to do with it.” In a recent council meeting, there was discussion of renting the property to an anchor tenant to generate Village income or possibly knocking down the existing house and enlarging the park.
Optimist Park may need a designated handicap spot among its seven parking spaces located along NE 94th Street. Bob Smith says he’d like to see an occasional farmers market or a community tag sale take place at the park to attract people to the NE 2nd Avenue downtown shopping district -- and perhaps raise money to help maintain local parks.
Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2017
Miami’s YoungArts Week features masters as mentors
Sales, special events, and more from the people who make Biscayne Times possible