They're coming so fast and furious now, it's difficult to keep track of all the proposals for a Marlins baseball stadium. Team owner John Henry continues to insist that the only feasible location is smack-dab in the center of Bicentennial Park (though I think he's bluffing). Others claim a site on the north side of the Miami River is the ideal spot. There's also serious talk of knocking down the old Miami Arena and putting up a stadium. The Miami chapter of the American Institute of Architects has identified a parcel west of the arena between Metrorail and I-95. Miami Mayor Joe Carollo would have us acknowledge his brilliance for suggesting that Biscayne Boulevard be moved westward to create space. Maurice Ferré, a former Miami mayor now campaigning to occupy that office again, believes we should move the boulevard eastward to accomplish the same thing.
The citizens of Hialeah already have weighed in with a popular vote endorsing an unspecified site in their city. And with the Orange Bowl in such decrepit shape, some people are seriously proposing its demolition to create a new home for the Marlins.
Frantically hatching one scheme after another is hardly the preferred approach to thoughtful urban planning. But then, what does Miami know about planning? As for thoughtful, John Henry and Mayor Alex Penelas, with their preposterous deadlines for finalizing agreements and playing ball, have made thoughtful consideration an impossibility. Yet no matter what cockamamie hallucination gets trotted out, the local media dutifully report it as legitimate news.
The real news about downtown Miami, however, hasn't made the front page or the evening broadcast. For more than six months, Miami City Commissioner Johnny Winton has been working quietly (too quietly if you ask me) to develop a comprehensive plan for reinventing Bicentennial Park. (A baseball stadium is not on the agenda. "Under no circumstances," he vows, "can the Marlins be in Bicentennial Park.") That process will finally rise to public consciousness this Saturday, February 10, when a daylong community brainstorming session takes place at the Biscayne Bay Marriott Hotel. The event, sponsored by the city, holds the promise of altering the debate over a baseball stadium by ensuring that a newly designed Bicentennial Park is off-limits. It also is expected to produce plenty of fresh thinking about the center city generally and the park specifically. As an added plus, it'll be fun.
"After some really good ideas," says Winton, "I hope that at the end of the day we have one to three models for how Bicentennial Park can be re-energized into one of the greatest public spaces in all of Florida." Winton is determined to avoid a fate common to such design charrettes: They end up being little more than exercises in fantasy that generate financially impractical proposals, which then collect dust. "I've listened to experts about charrettes," he says, "and I'm not convinced this one is going to be like all the others. We're going into this differently. We have a financing component tied to the planning. I made a commitment to the commission that we would have a financing plan. You're going to get a lot of ideas, and they'll be consolidated into some pretty good ones. The financial people will be sitting there doing calculations, saying, That won't work,' or That has possibilities.' Then they'll go away and do some financial modeling, and afterward we'll have one to three models to take to the commission."
Any plan presented to the Miami City Commission will be the result of many months of work by scores of dedicated volunteers. Last spring Winton persuaded his fellow commissioners to create the Bicentennial Park/Waterfront Renewal Committee. Its deceptively straightforward mission: "Produce a workable and implementable plan for Bicentennial Park to become a premier public park." As chairman of the committee, Winton also managed to finagle $200,000 to cover myriad anticipated costs. Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, dean of the University of Miami's School of Architecture, and Greg Bush, president of the Urban Environment League, signed on as co-chairs. Four subcommittees were formed: design, funding, baywalk, and neighborhood linkage, each under its own leadership.
All through the summer and winter the subcommittees kept busy. The larger committee met periodically to receive reports and kick around ideas. A highly regarded, locally based urban-design firm was engaged (Dover Kohl & Partners), as was a respected financial consultant (Donald Zuchelli of ZHA, Inc., in Annapolis, Maryland). Winton even hired a former volunteer parks advocate, Bob Weinreb, and appointed him as liaison between the commissioner's office and all outside entities with an interest in Bicentennial Park.
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One tangible result of all this can be found on the third floor of the city's Riverside Center administration building. There, under the care of the planning and zoning department, can be found "the book," a three-ring binder that at last count was nearly five inches thick. This is the printed record of everything the Bicentennial Park committee has accomplished so far, and it is indeed impressive. From a complete history of Miami's waterfront (sadly, a trail of tears) to the latest evil plot to wall off the bay, it stands as a testament to the efforts of all those who have devoted themselves to preserving and improving Miami's crown jewel of waterfront parks.
But that record is a mere prelude to this Saturday's charrette. From 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. the public will be able to nourish body and soul with refreshments and a browse through "the book" and many other displays of ideas related to Bicentennial Park. Then participants will divide into working groups, each assigned a design task and each led by an expert. This is where the brainstorming fun comes in. After a lunch break, courtesy of the City of Miami, it'll be back to work. Presentations will be made before the day ends at 4:00 p.m.
Parking for the charrette will be available at the Omni parking garage as well as at the Biscayne Bay Marriott, 1633 N. Bayshore Dr. For more information call Bob Weinreb at Commissioner Winton's office: 305-250-5333. On Thursday, February 8, at 5:15 p.m., a guided tour of Bicentennial Park will be provided by Dover Kohl & Partners (305-666-0446).
See you there.