The Children's Museum, Inc.

New Times gives a tour of the Miami Children's Museum and its corporate exhibitisements -- for kids of all ages!

Hey, kids, guess what? After four years without a home, your Miami Children's Museum may have found one, in a magical place called Watson Island. The board of directors hopes to begin building it next February with seven million dollars in public and private money it has collected over the past eight years. The directors' dream is to have the museum ready by August 2002. That's a long time to wait, especially since some of the advertisements, er, exhibits, already are raising eyebrows at children's museums in other cities. Wondering what's making those brows go up? Let's pretend the museum is open and take a tour! But first a little history.

Long ago in 1949, some nice people in Tallahassee were kind enough to sell Watson Island to the City of Miami for a grand total of ten dollars. Can you believe it? It's true, the entire island for ten dollars. They weren't totally nice, though, because if someone found a buried treasure on the island, like petroleum or minerals, those same people from the capital insisted that half of the riches should go back to Tallahassee (to a group with a funny name, the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund). Not only that, but they made a strict rule: The city “shall never sell or convey or lease” any part of Watson Island “to any private person, firm, or corporation for any private use or purpose, it being the intention of this restriction that the said lands shall be used solely for public purposes.” That's a lot of fancy adult talk, isn't it? It means they wanted the island to always be a place where you, your parents, and your grandparents could play.

Now if you haven't already learned this important lesson, you will: Some rules are made to be broken. And sure enough, in 1958 those people in Tallahassee broke their own rule. That's because they wanted to let some friendly folks from a private company -- the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company -- put a blimp on the island. The blimp idea was very clever because (1) everybody likes to look at a blimp, and (2) when everybody looks at the blimp, they see the name Goodyear on it. Then the next time they need to buy tires, there's a good chance they'll pick Goodyear. And you know what? It works. That's a little trick called corporate branding. Goodyear was a pioneer in that field. It looks as though the Miami Children's Museum is going to be one, too. But hold on. You'll find out more about this in a minute, once we begin our tour.

Illustrations courtesy of Miami Children's Museum and Jeremy Eaton
Illustrations courtesy of Miami Children's Museum and Jeremy Eaton
Illustrations courtesy of Miami Children's Museum and Jeremy Eaton
Illustrations courtesy of Miami Children's Museum and Jeremy Eaton

Many years later, in 1980, the people in Tallahassee broke their rule again. Why? Because they liked a dream some of your grandparents imagined for Watson Island. They wanted to turn it into an amusement park, like Disney World! And make pots of gold! But it turned out to be just a dream. Poof!

The friendly folks of the children's museum also had a dream go poof. Four years ago the museum had to leave its little home at the Bakery Centre shopping center because the mall was going to be torn down. The museum moved into another mall, then called the Miracle Center, for about a year, while the board of directors searched for another home. Meanwhile they got architects from a famous firm named Arquitectonica to design a permanent one; the architects came up with a two-level red, orange, and gray building with a curvy roof and something that looks like a huge upside-down glass ice-cream cone. After that the directors went in search of a place to put it. They fell in love with a site at a Metrorail stop right next to a pretty, quiet neighborhood called the Roads, with lots of old-fashioned houses. The directors loved the Metrorail spot, because it was near the Miami Science Museum, another place for children. The Miami City Commission also loved the idea and voted in favor of it. That might have been smart, since the museum's board included some pretty important people. People like Marianne Devine, a vice president at NationsBank (now Bank of America); Ann Pope, a manager for a shopping-mall builder called the Rouse Company; and Claudia Potamkin, the wife of a wealthy car dealer named Alan.

But the people who lived in the Roads hated the idea. They were afraid their neighborhood would not be pretty or quiet anymore because of all the noise and traffic caused by buses and vans and cars carrying hundreds of excited kids to the museum. Can you believe it? It's true. The Roads people were so mad, in fact, that they even hired lawyers and sued the children's museum to keep it out of their neighborhood. But the board of directors wasn't scared. Three of its members -- Sam Terilli, Scott Leeds, and Richard Lampen -- also were lawyers. And they hired some other attorneys from a powerful law firm named Greenberg Traurig.

At least they weren't scared for a while. This past March these nice lawyers advised their fellow board members to avoid the fight with the angry Roads people and look for another site. They looked at Bicentennial Park downtown and liked what they saw. The park is on the waterfront and close to a Metromover stop, so kids whose parents don't have cars can get there easily. But other groups with big plans wanted to move into Bicentennial Park, too. Like the Florida Marlins baseball team, whose president, John Henry, insists on building a stadium right on top of one of the last public parks on Biscayne Bay! Can you believe it?

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