Magic Primeval

Don't tell archaeologist Bob Carr that the mysterious Miami Circle is just a bunch of holes in the ground. He knows better than that.

Baumann's touchiness about media exposure was telling. Early on he seemed to have come to the conclusion that public attention could do his cause no good, that as the developer, the man ultimately responsible for destroying the site, he automatically would be portrayed as a villain. Ricisak and Carr tried to present alternatives, pointing out that at other archaeological sites builders actually had used the press to their advantage, modifying their plans to protect resources and then publicizing their good deeds. But Baumann wasn't interested. Perhaps he was still smarting from what public controversy had done to him in the late 1980s, when he tried unsuccessfully to rip out a mangrove swamp next door to Oleta River State Park and replace it with condominiums and a marina. (That ill-starred venture was brought down by environmentalists and county and state regulators in an ugly fight that involved accusations of threats against activists, a failed run by Baumann for the North Miami Beach City Council, and a $30 million lawsuit by Baumann's father, Stan, against North Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County. In the end Baumann declared bankruptcy and lost the mangrove land to the Resolution Trust Corporation, which sold it to a state-county partnership.) Or maybe he was just feeling the pressure of the millions of dollars in other people's money riding on his project and of the costs certain to be incurred if he substantially modified its design. "Basically he said it's too late for anything like that," Ricisak recounts. "He was probably right."

Baumann also was setting himself up for a public-relations disaster. Had he been more flexible, it is possible that he and his project might have avoided following the familiar "evil developer versus the community" media script. But by refusing to bend, he made it virtually certain that those terms would be applied to any conflict over the circle site. And a conflict was coming, all right -- an epic battle that would make earlier South Florida fights over preservation look like mere skirmishes by comparison. It would be fought in the media; in the halls of city, county, and state government; and outside the fence surrounding the site itself.

Whether he deserved it or not (and the archaeologists are unanimous in saying he didn't), Baumann would be perceived as the villain in this confrontation. Where there are villains, of course, there also have to be heroes. In this case that was what Bob Carr was about to become.

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Toward the end of the second week of January 1999, while anticipating the arrival of Baumann's permits and the eviction of his dig crew, Carr noticed a shift in the attitude of his superiors at Miami-Dade County. It was a subtle change, something that might not have been picked up by someone lacking the bureaucratic intuition Carr had developed after two decades with the county, but it was there nonetheless. The signs were small but definite: extra-anxious attention from his boss, Office of Economic and Community Development director Tony Crapp; unusual requests for information from the county manager's office; an awareness that his reports were being routed further and further up the county chain of command. The circle, he sensed, was beginning to attract political interest, and since he was the county's point man on the issue, his job was about to become a lot more complicated.

It was a strange position to be in, one made stranger still by the fact that Carr wasn't even supposed to be working for the county anymore. Long before the discovery of the circle, he had scheduled his retirement for December 31, 1998. When that plan had been disrupted by the circle crisis, Carr had agreed to stay on until the matter was resolved. He had expected the resolution to come quickly, with the beginning of construction. Now, though, it seemed there might be roadblocks, or at least speed bumps, ahead.

As an archaeologist Carr welcomed any extra time he could get to find out more about the site, but as a county bureaucrat he had to be careful to remain neutral. "You've got to understand, my job wasn't to set policy," he explains. "My job was to creatively use policy." There also was the matter of the archaeologists' fragile relationship with Baumann, which would be endangered by any hint that they were pushing for preservation. Particularly Carr worried that Baumann would perceive the outspoken Ricisak, a staunch preservationist, as instigating unfavorable media coverage of the developer's project. But as much as Ricisak wanted to come out in favor of saving the site, he also saw the merits of his boss's approach and did his best to keep his own feelings to himself.

By this time, though, there was no need to instigate anything. The press was all over the story, and the community was mobilizing to demand action. Preservation groups like the Dade Heritage Trust and the newly formed Urban Environment League had begun to fight back, and by broadcasting the conflict, the media were creating more opposition to Baumann's plan every day. Still, Carr recognized, at this stage of the game all the public opposition in the world was powerless to protect the circle. That would take some kind of government action, and whatever move Miami-Dade County was considering would probably come too late. For its part the City of Miami had let it be known that it wasn't going to let a few holes in the rock stand in the way of redevelopment. Brickell Pointe was expected to add 600 units of upscale housing to downtown Miami and $1.1 million to the cash-strapped city's tax rolls; along with the planned Miami One development across the river, it was touted by Mayor Joe Carollo as a crucial step to bringing Miami back from the brink of financial disaster.

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