Keep Off The Grass!

One problem with the waterfront plan, LeJeune points out, is that it suggests commercialization of Bicentennial Park as a way to lure visitors, creating just another version of Bayside that would ultimately attract tourists rather than the local community. "If it is water-oriented attractions Luft is suggesting, like an aquarium or a maritime museum, things like that I would agree with," says LeJeune. "But I'm not sure there is a need to use this site for a science museum that could be placed somewhere else. And the theaters - that is definitely out. That is just too much a commercialization."

LeJeune says he's in favor of the idea of opening the view of the park from the entrance. But tilting the land two degrees upward toward the bay, he argues, is a simplistic and boring solution. He suggests tilting the site the other way, and building a dramatic flight of steps at the entrance that would end at a boardwalk with the entire open park stretching before it toward the water. "You wouldn't have the view from the street, but for the person entering the park, there would be this immediate panorama when they reach the top of the steps," says LeJeune. "It could have that magnificent feeling of an expanse, a lawn in front of the viewer much like many of the old properties here in Miami, like the Deering Estate. At the same time it would all be open, so the person entering could feel safe. They could see the entire park in front of them."

LeJeune says he's also intrigued by the park's potential as a site for a downtown performing-arts center, an idea that has been debated for more than a decade. In 1988 a site-recommendation committee chose Bicentennial Park as the location for an opera, ballet, and theater complex. Civic and cultural groups and the downtown business establishment immediately objected to the choice, and the seven-member committee - which included banker David Paul, attorney Parker Thomson, then-Miami City Commissioner Rosario Kennedy, and Alvah Chapman, who at the time was chairman of Knight-Ridder Inc. - disbanded when it was revealed its members had met in secret to select the site. The location for the proposed arts center still has not been chosen by the Metro-Dade Commission, although a committee that replaced the original panel has recommended using land owned by Knight-Ridder, north of I-395 near the Miami Herald building.

Under the direction of Professor LeJeune, several UM architecture students have drafted preliminary designs for a performing-arts center on the 23-acre FEC tract, a site that offers the advantages of proximity to the waterfront and high visibility. In LeJeune's vision for the complex, the existing Bicentennial Park to the north would be untouched, and three-fourths of the FEC plot could be turned into park land. LeJeune expects that the FEC tract will be discussed when the American Institute of Architects presents its vision for the performing-arts project to the Metro Commission on May 30. "The design for this would be quite difficult and would have to be quite original," the UM professor says. "It would take some type of a competition to get a really good architect to best utilize this site. But it could have fantastic possibilities. An arts center like this could be a fantastic centerpiece to this park."

If it has not been embraced by most of the residents of Greater Miami, Bicentennial Park as a manifestation of Frederick Law Olmsted's concept of privacy and escape from the distractions of urban life, of a return to the landscape of unspoiled nature, has been appreciated by the several dozen homeless "residents" who now make use of the site.

At the abandoned restaurant, a diverse community had fashioned households under the roof's overhang. Distinct groups of homeless people - Latin, homosexual, "the straights" - coexisted peacefully, banding together against intruders. Then, in late March, preparations for the annual Grand Prix necessitated their eviction. Now that the auto race is over, about a dozen transvestites and other men have returned to the building's overhang. "Shit, those was good times," recalls a heavyset 27-year-old man who speaks with a faint Caribbean accent and calls himself Pharoah.

A native of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, Pharoah says he first came to Bicentennial Park in 1987 after leaving the U.S. Army and working at various jobs, including farm work between here and Georgia. Last month he was released from the Dade County Jail, having served more than three months on a burglary charge. "We had barbecues, we went fishing, swimming," he says, pouring a bucket of water over his head to wash off the salt from a dip in the bay. Not long ago he was camped out under I-95, Pharoah says, the night a homeless man was murdered there. Pharoah came back to Bicentennial. "Of all the places I've been, there ain't no place like here. It's the only place I see where the people from the street cooling out, with no harassment or hassles, you know, and they hang together. This is a great place. They should have more people using this place.

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