Magic Primeval, Part 2

On the eve of its permanent disfigurement, the Miami Circle unleashed its mysterious powers of survival

For about 30 minutes, Gregory and the rest of the archaeological crew waited, listening to the crowd taunt and abuse the backhoe driver, knowing that if he didn't back down, they might have to take cover. ("I thought a lot about swimming to Miami Beach," Gregory says now, chuckling.) Then, to the applause of the crowd and the relief of the dig crew, the man climbed down from the machine, got into his truck, and drove away, never to return.

The next day the struggle moved to a different location: the commission chambers at Miami City Hall. Once again someone working to cut out the circle -- in this case Miami Mayor Joe Carollo -- was pitted against a crowd of pro-circle partisans. Unlike the backhoe driver, Carollo had a way to keep his crowd under control; he had police officers to enforce the ban he imposed on applause and other outbursts from the audience. But he also had to contend with a new factor: the camera-beloved (and camera-loving) Alex Penelas, who had come to the city commission meeting to invite Miami to join the county's save-the-circle effort. While commissioners Art Teele and Tomas Regalado wanted to cooperate with Penelas, Carollo resisted his rival at every turn. Even discussing the idea was dangerous, he argued, for it might expose the city to a lawsuit by the developer. The "40-, 50-, 60-million-dollar" judgment that could result, he warned, would mean the end of the city of Miami as an entity.

Carr had accompanied Penelas to testify on the circle's archaeological value, and as the meeting wore on he noticed the county mayor becoming more and more frustrated. It was obvious the county wasn't going to receive even token support on the issue from the city. If the site was going to be preserved, the county was going to have to act on its own -- and act quickly. Thus Carr wasn't surprised when Penelas called a press conference the following afternoon and announced that he was going to ask the county commission to try to take Brickell Point under eminent domain.

Archaeologists Bob Carr (left) and John Ricisak: Their skill and professionalism succeeded beyond their wildest dreams
Bill Cooke
Archaeologists Bob Carr (left) and John Ricisak: Their skill and professionalism succeeded beyond their wildest dreams
Archaeologists Bob Carr (left) and John Ricisak: Their skill and professionalism succeeded beyond their wildest dreams
Bill Cooke
Archaeologists Bob Carr (left) and John Ricisak: Their skill and professionalism succeeded beyond their wildest dreams


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Still, as the archaeologist sat watching the county commission meeting that Thursday, he couldn't escape his amazement at what was happening. It didn't seem possible that Miami-Dade County, of all places, was about to attempt a hostile buyout of private property to protect an archaeological site. It just didn't seem real. And as the room exploded in cheers at the commission's 10-1 vote in favor of Penelas's proposal, and circle supporters mobbed him with handshakes and hugs, a part of Carr remained untouched by the general euphoria. He knew that while far more had been accomplished than he or anyone else had dreamed possible, the battle to save the circle was nowhere near won. Two great obstacles still lay across the trail to victory: a court fight with the best legal talent the deep-pocketed Baumann could afford, and a quest for the tens of millions of dollars the land was sure to cost.

There was, it seemed, plenty of conflict ahead, and conflict was something with which Carr had never felt comfortable. And yet in this case he could see where it had been and could be useful, even necessary. He received perhaps his most unsettling exposure to this viewpoint not long after the commission vote, when he asked Paul Eagleheart whether he actually had been ready to lead an armed occupation of the circle site. "He said it was true, and I said, “You realize you would have created a confrontation with the Miami police and everybody else out there,'" Carr says. "And he said, “Well, I think this would have been a good place to die.'"

Developer Michael Baumann thought Brickell Point, a nub of land at the mouth of the Miami River, would be the perfect place for a pair of new apartment towers. He never suspected that the property he'd purchased for eight million dollars hid a priceless archaeological treasure: a 38-foot circle thought to be cut into the limestone bedrock by the vanished Tequesta Indian tribe.

In the weeks just after the county commission voted to seize the circle property and a judge granted an injunction temporarily shielding the site, Carr was front and center for the next skirmishes of the save-the-circle campaign. They took place in Tallahassee, at cabinet meetings presided over by Miami-Dade's most prominent ex-developer, Gov. Jeb Bush. Carr's mission was to support Commissioner Katy Sorenson in a bid for millions of dollars in state funds set aside for the purchase of archaeologically significant land. It was critical that a healthy portion of the money required for the circle buy be lined up quickly, partly to encourage contributions from private donors and partly because the county needed to be able to show it was serious when its eminent domain suit went to court. The funds also were necessary to head off an attack from an unexpected direction: The City of Miami had retained an independent law firm to look into legal action against the county, claiming that Miami-Dade had filed for eminent domain in bad faith because it had no hope of obtaining the money to pay for the site. In fact despite plenty of brave talk from county officials about potential funding sources, Miami-Dade had almost no cash on hand to buy the land, and Baumann's lawyers were claiming it could be worth $50 million or more.

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