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Political Intrigue and Parcel B PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer   
March 2018

Fate of public land hangs in the balance


This article has been updated. See end of story.

 

Parcel_B_1
This month the Miami-Dade County Commission may finally decide the future of about three acres of waterfront land, long promised as a public park, in Miami’s downtown area. That future could involve a museum or a park or a special arrangement with Miami’s NBA team.

Parcel B, the land in question, is located behind the AmericanAirlines Arena, a 19,600-seat county-owned facility that’s managed by the Miami Heat. It consists of pavement, grass, and trees, and offers fantastic views of Biscayne Bay.

Back in 1996 county officials promised to turn Parcel B into a park. Instead, it has been used as a staging and parking area by the Miami Heat during basketball games and concerts as many as 240 days a year.

However, since the summer of 2015, the fences surrounding Parcel B have either been removed or opened when the Miami Heat aren’t using the property, enabling the public to reach the area by foot or by car. Last year the county even invested $396,000 installing benches, and planting trees and grass, along Parcel B’s baywalk.

Parcel B has also been of keen interest to a non-profit group headed by Bay of Pigs veteran William Muir. The group wants to build an 80,000-square-foot Cuban Exile History Museum and adjacent plaza on that public land. A proposed “memorandum of understanding” and a 55-year lease would enable Cuban Exile History Museum Inc. to develop the museum and plaza on Parcel B if it can raise the $89 million to build it within four years.

County commission chairman Esteban Bovo, whose district includes Hialeah and Miami Lakes and who’s the son of a Bay of Pigs veteran, is the prime sponsor of the proposed memorandum of understanding and lease for the museum. (See “Countdown to Parcel B Decision,” February 2018.)

Parcel_B_2The proposed memorandum and lease were supposed to be discussed by the county commission’s Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee in late February. The item, though, never made it to the committee’s agenda. Nicolas Gutierrez, secretary of the board for Cuban Exile History Museum Inc., blames the delay on the Miami Heat. “The Miami Heat is pushing for a parking licensing agreement,” Gutierrez says.

The Miami Heat surrendered to the county any development rights it had on Parcel B back in 2003, in exchange for being released from a commitment to build a pedestrian bridge between Parcel B and the neighboring Bayside Marketplace.

Following that surrender, the county commission in 2007 agreed to authorize a study on the feasibility of building a museum on Parcel B that would be dedicated to the failed attempt in 1961 to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.

Seven years later, a different kind of Cuban museum was proposed for the property, this one honoring the Cuban exile experience. In July 2014, the Miami-Dade County Commission, by a vote of 8-4, authorized county Mayor Carlos Gimenez to negotiate a lease with the Cuban Exile History Museum Inc.

Key to the vote was a promise extracted by Commissioner Dennis Moss that the county would fund the construction of an African-American museum, preferably to be located at a downtown waterfront location as well. Since then, the county has earmarked $500,000 toward a non-profit organization, to be created by Moss, for the purpose of developing the museum. That money would come from a pending settlement for fines levied against ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft.

The Miami Heat, meanwhile, has expressed concern about how a museum on Parcel B would affect its ability to use the property. (After surrendering its development rights to Parcel B, the Heat has had access to the property only on a year-to-year basis.)

Parcel_B_3_Bill Muir, Robert Chisholm, and Nicolas Gutierrez just prior to Feb. 26 sunshine meetingTo ease those concerns, the Heat has proposed a licensing agreement that would guarantee access to Parcel B until 2040. The agreement would not give the Heat exclusive use of Parcel B (the county rents the land to other groups from time to time, but it would give the team preference, especially during preseason, season, and playoff NBA games. It would also maintain the rental rates the county currently charges the Heat: $550 a day for staging, $1100 a day for parking, and $7500 a day for any carnivals, private parties, or concerts.

The proposed agreement also seeks to guarantee that Parcel B can accommodate parking for a large number of vehicles: valet parking for 405 vehicles or 436 “crew vehicles” or 96 tractor trailers, buses, satellite trucks, and “other larger vehicles associated with arena events.”

Architect Robert Chisholm, who designed the exile museum and its adjoining plaza, says the project would be able to accommodate the Miami Heat’s parking and staging needs. “On a typical basketball day, there’s 80 cars,” he tells the BT. “They say they need 400 cars. They’re negotiating. What we’re saying is, look at the facts. If you want to find a place to park there, fine. There’s room.”

Nicolas Gutierrez believes the county commission will hear the Heat’s licensing agreement and the museum’s lease as separate items at the same meeting. “Presumably March 6 would be the date, but I wouldn’t put my life on it right now,” says Gutierrez.

Gutierrez thinks a deal can be made with the Miami Heat. Less compromising, though, are organizations like the Urban Environment League, Miami Neighborhoods United, and Scenic Miami, all of which insist that no museum ever be built on Parcel B.

Also taking a stance against a museum is the Biscayne Neighborhood Association, an organization that represents condominiums in downtown Miami, Omni, and Edgewater. “We want green space. Total park. No development of any kind,” says Andres Althabe, president of the BNA. “Regardless of the good intentions and worthiness of the Cuban museum, we think the community prefers parks.”

On February 16, the Miami Downtown Development Authority, chaired by Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell, unanimously passed a resolution urging the county to “not develop any portion of Parcel B for any type of commercial use, and further ensure that Parcel B remains park space open for public use, as previously promised to the community.”

County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, whose district includes Parcel B, voted against the Cuban Exile History Museum in 2014. Since then, she has supported the idea that Parcel B should become a park or, at the very least, remain as accessible open space.

Edmonson, though, hinted during a brief February 26 public meeting to discuss Parcel B that she was willing to compromise. Toward that end, Edmonson announced she was off to a closed-door meeting with Mayor Gimenez and someone she didn’t want to name.

“I’m trying to work on something that will make everyone happier,” Edmonson said at the meeting. “Not everyone happy-happy, but happier.”

Before leaving, Edmonson did stress that her desired outcome would be that Parcel B becomes a park. And that outcome may involve Miami City Commissioner Russell, whose district includes Parcel B, as well as Jason Walker, executive director of the Miami’s Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, which covers an area that is adjacent to, but doesn’t include, Parcel B.

“I already met with Jason and Commissioner Russell,” Edmonson cryptically said at the meeting. “I already had a good meeting with them, [and now] I have to meet with someone else.”

 

Update: During a follow-up public meeting on March 1 between Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Esteban Bovo and Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, Bovo agreed to delay for three months a vote on the future of Parcel B. During that time, the county will explore the feasibility of building a Cuban Exile History Museum and an African-American History Museum on the grounds of Museum Park.

 

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