|31 January 2009
Historic Miami Circle shrouded from public view
The Miami Circle (Florida, USA), the 2,000-year-old remnant of the city's original inhabitants, has just been designated a National Historic Landmark, an honor that puts it on a select list of the country's most significant archaeological sites. A decade after taxpayers paid nearly $27 million to save the 2.2-acre bayfront site from development, there's little to see there other than a weedy plot of land and a circular depression where the main feature was buried in protective fill. But what you can see may not quite accord with the site's importance: a colossal new condo and hotel development that backs up to the site's southern edge with massive concrete walls, two yawning service garages and loading docks overlooking the ancient circle.
Frustration is growing among some advocates and elected officials who say the state of Florida and Icon Brickell developer Related Group have not lived up to pledges to provide a public riverwalk and park at the site. Related Group officials, who built an adjacent baywalk on their property that would provide public access to the circle, say they remain willing to put up money for improvements, but have not specified how much. Meanwhile, there appears to be little immediate prospect for a riverwalk or park.
The Historical Museum of Southern Florida, which is managing the site under a contract with the state, says work will soon begin on replacement of a collapsed seawall along the river that has hindered plans for public access. The museum is also hiring a landscape architecture firm to design a park. But critics say those two initiatives will eat up virtually all the $2.2 million allocated for the site by the Florida Legislature, leaving little to pay for construction of riverwalk or park. The work would also delay the opening of the site until at least 2012.
Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, whose district includes the circle site, called the delays 'unacceptable.' Bob McCammon, the history museum's president, says the national landmark designation from the U.S. secretary of the Interior will open the door to potential federal grants for the circle site. The Downtown Development Authority, a semi-independent arm of the city, and the state-chartered Miami River Commission are pressing the museum to forgo a master plan until more money becomes available, and instead build the riverwalk immediately after the seawall reconstruction is done. The state is sticking with its plans, however. No matter what happens on the site in the near future, the circle itself will likely remain invisible for a long time.
Sources: Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post (27 January 2009)
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