To the Rescue, Slowly

When you're standing on the South Beach sand amid the sounds of the tumbling surf and frolicking tourists and the cacophonous blend of music wafting from the bars along Ocean Drive, it's easy to forget that two and a half years ago a not-so-little storm blew into Dade County and upended everything. Damage to Miami Beach was nothing compared with the devastation farther south, but structures along the seaward flank took a beating. Some of the city's wooden lifeguard stands, for instance, were reduced to kindling.

As plans got under way to replace the battered roosts, city officials -- bless their artistic souls -- vowed to seize the opportunity to make a statement about historic preservation. Sixteen stands required replacement, and the aesthetes-in-charge decided to add a little Art Deco flourish to six. Instead of resurrecting the simple box-on-stilts design, they would build six colorful, custom-made lifeguard stands for the stretch of beach between the South Pointe jetty and Fifteenth Street.

To date, only four of the souped-up stands have materialized. And if the city fails to build the other two in the next five weeks, it may lose more than $12,000 in federal money earmarked for the project. Two deadline extensions already have been granted; the original deadline, February 24, 1994, was pushed to New Year's Eve, then later to June 19 of this year. What should have been a lively symbol of renewal has become a reflection of bureaucratic tardiness.

After Hurricane Andrew, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) allocated nearly $110,000 to rebuild sixteen damaged lifeguard stands. At the time, federal officials made it clear that any improvements to the bare-bones structure (like, say, an upgrade to an Art Deco model) must be paid for with city funds or private donations. Whereas each standard-issue stand costs about $6000 to build, city bean counters estimate costs of the custom-designed stands at about $12,000 apiece, according to project overseer Brad Judd, the Miami Beach Property Management Division's director.

During the construction period, lifeguards have made do with the basic lifeguard stands, according to Cpt. John Lasseter, who leads the city's Beach Patrol. The first three Deco stands, all brightly colored and uniquely shaped, are located at Eighth, Tenth, and Twelfth streets, and were designed by Miami architect Bill Lane. The fourth Deco stand was scheduled to be installed this past Tuesday at Thirteenth Street. Titled "Home Sweet Home" and shaped like a giant bed, it was created by Beach-based artist Antoni Miralda. In addition to funding from FEMA and the City of Miami Beach, $10,000 was kicked in for the stand by Island Outpost, Inc., which owns and operates several South Beach hotels. Work has only just begun, however, on the final two stands, both of which were designed by Bill Lane.

As with other hurricane-relief endeavors, the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) is responsible for apportioning the federal money. DCA spokesman Tim Bottcher says his agency granted extensions to the City of Miami Beach because city officials had said they needed more time to settle on designs and because city carpenters were doing the work. Will the state grant a third extension? "We're not trying to cause hardships. But we'll have to cross that bridge when we get to it," Bottcher says noncommittally.

Judd isn't worried about busting another deadline. "I don't intend to lose the FEMA money -- I feel we're on track," he declares, pointing out that two of his six carpenters are working full-time to complete the undertaking. "We don't just build Art Deco lifeguard stands," he adds.


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