Museum Park Makes a Grand Debut

Biscayne Times

Written By Jim W. Harper, BT Contributor



ParkPatrol_1Looking west from the park leaves no doubt you are in a city. BT photos by Jim W. Harper

he phoenix has come to Miami.


Not the city or the online university, but a bird that has risen from the ashes. Metaphorically speaking, the ashes were Bicentennial Park, once the worst park in the nation; and the resurrected wonder is Museum Park, downtown Miami’s newest and potentially best park.

Museum Park opened on Flag Day, June 14, and even detractors were celebrating. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado had denied soccer mogul David Beckham rights to build a stadium here, and this veto preserved open views and the historic boat slip adjacent to the American Airlines Arena.

The park’s upgrade of 21 acres of green space cost approximately $10 million, according to Tim Schmand, executive director of the trust that manages this park and Bayfront Park. Other reported estimates of $40 million include the sea walls and museum-related costs.

Critics have bemoaned the two modern museums that occupy the park’s northern border and eat green space, but let’s get real for a moment. The museums are not condominiums or malls or tacky attractions. These are world-class museums for art and science. This combination symbolizes an integrated world we need to live in, not the false dichotomy of all green space and no concrete.


ParkPatrol_2The waterfront Pérez Art Museum Miami offers shaded seating and great views.

Don’t forget the park’s ghost. When I reviewed Bicentennial Park in December 2007, it earned a one-tree rating (and that was generous). It attracted the homeless and repelled tourists. It was filthy, unsafe, and, frankly, the worst urban green space I’d ever seen. In a word: repulsive.


Yet the bones were always there. From the waterfront, you can watch seaplanes land, cruise ships turn, and dolphins roll in Biscayne Bay. With a little imagination, spin slowly and catch glimpses of a Mayan Temple (Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center), four gigantic totem poles (the condominiums across Biscayne Boulevard), and a goddess (a bronze statue by Cundo Bermudez). Across the boat slip looms the AAA spaceship.

On the waterfront, baby, on the waterfront.

This land is clearly some of the most valuable in Florida, and just north of the park and the highway, the walls of the former Miami Herald building are tumbling down to make way for Genting’s mega development.

Also in clear view are the cranes and cement trucks working feverishly on the Patricia and Philip Frost Museum of Science, which may open next year. The Pérez Art Museum Miami, or PAMM, opened last year.


ParkPatrol_3On opening day, paddleboards approach the Coast Guard’s barque Eagle.


PAMM sits directly on the water, and plenty of benches and stairs offer shady places to sit and watch the boats sails by. Another benefit is that the building blocks the highway and reduces noise within the park. The planners smartly placed these buildings compactly, in an undesirable corner, and the plaza between them is destined to become the intellectual crossroads of Miami.

Museum Park’s main feature, a gigantic open lawn, is a clear nod to Central Park’s famous lawn for free spirits and Frisbee throwers. The St. Augustine grass in Museum Park needs time to mature and may suffer from summer flooding.

Puddles and standing water have accumulated around trees that need drainage, and one sloping hill near the art museum was so eroded that underground pipes were exposed. Mulch sprawled across sidewalks.

Another potential hazard is falling trees. I saw a mature coconut palm lying sideways on a plaza near the art museum. Many trees have posts for stability, but hurricane season could turn them into matchsticks.


ParkPatrol_4The park offers lots of bike racks and water views from almost every angle.


With the park’s shine still intact, criticism is difficult without the caveat of its newness. Where is the entrance sign? Are sports permitted? Fishing? Whether legal or not, people continue fishing here as before.

The park offers a $5 option parking behind the sewage station. The art museum’s entrance, closer to the highway, provides an underground garage for $2 per hour. The best transportation option is the free Metromover, and the formally closed station has reopened (yet another phoenix). Bike racks are plentiful.

The park’s opening weekend featured the gorgeous 295-foot U.S. Coast Guard barque Eagle, the tallest of the U.S. flagships. The park manager says that the official flagship of the Colombian navy, Gloria, will visit in July. “The word is getting out among international sailing nations,” says Schmand.

Massive square mooring stations line the north side of the FEC boat slip, and although not attached to the seawall, they are close enough for a jump. Smaller vessels can float by, and I saw two people on stand-up boards paddle under the ship’s golden eagle figurehead. Where did they come from?


ParkPatrol_5Cundo Bermudez’s sculpture welcomes park visitors at the foot of the boat slip.

As with other waterfront parks near downtown, a major drawback is the lack of accessibility to the water. You can’t launch a kayak or otherwise get close to the water (not that you’d want to, with all the pollution trapped in the seaweed), although there are new ladders on the seawall. Concerns over safety and cleanliness likely rule out future access.


Some quick and easy improvements to the park would include signage of its main features and its history — especially its use during World War II. And add an English translation of the Bermudez statue! A few picnic tables would complement the more than 40 Key Largo limestone benches that line the walkways.

Surprise! The park has bathroom facilities — and it allows dogs! Dogs are banned from most parks across Miami, so this feature alone is monumental.

In my former review of Bicentennial Park, I noted the huge gulf between the park’s potential and its reality. I composed a poem to christen it “Helen of Troy’s corpse.” Seven years later, despite being planned and constructed in the era of the Great Recession, it has realized much of its potential.

Compared to other nearby parks, its cost appears reasonable. Margaret Pace Park’s overhaul in 2003 cost $4 million, and South Pointe’s Park’s relaunch in 2009 cost $22.5 million

Museum Park proves that things in Miami can get done, and that public waterfront can be reclaimed. Because of its sponsored museums? Probably. I leave that debate to others. This park has taken flight.



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