Calls for Miami museum site unrealistic, mayor says
Written by John Charles Robbins on October 22, 2014
County leaders may have their hopes set on city-owned property for building a black history museum, but Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said their choice of sites is not realistic.
Two weeks ago, Miami-Dade commissioners approved legislation to begin planning for a black history museum. County staff was directed to outline the logistics of constructing the museum, and only two sites were identified: Watson Island and Museum Park, both under the jurisdiction of the City of Miami.
Both City Manager Daniel Alfonso and Mayor Regalado told Miami Today that no one from the county has approached them about building a black history museum on either site.
Beyond that, the county’s narrow focus – looking only at Watson Island and Museum Park – simply is not workable, according to the mayor.
Watson Island is already spoken for, Mayor Regalado said. Miami Children’s Museum, Jungle Island zoological park, the Island Gardens mega resort from Flagstone Island Gardens LLC, the Port of Miami tunnel and other contracted ventures have gobbled up all the available real estate on Watson.
“I am the chairman of Miami Sports and Exhibition Agency [MSEA], who runs the area of Watson where the Children’s Museum is located. Recently MSEA entered a new lease to enhance the former Chalk’s seaplane base and also the heliport next to Flagstone. There is no more space on Watson Island,” said Mayor Regalado.
The same could be said for Museum Park, the city’s brand-new passive park opened just this summer between the Pérez Art Museum Miami and the FEC Slip and AmericanAirlines Arena.
“As to the Museum Park component, as you know, we are furnishing all the open spaces. I can’t see a fit there,” he said.
The mayor mentioned there might be space on another island.
“It has been suggested in the past to direct them to Virginia Key, since the trust there has already a plan for a black museum,” Mayor Regalado said. Virginia Key is a barrier island owned by the city, and a trust board governs a park and beach on the island.
But some county commissioners have balked at the idea, saying the black history museum should to built on a high-profile site and not tucked away in a remote location.
“I will not support isolating the black history museum in a corner,” said county commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa at the Oct. 7 meeting.
County Commissioner Dennis Moss, prime sponsor of the legislation, is also pushing for a visible site for the new museum.
“I supported the Cuban exile museum. I believe the Cuban community has a story to be told. But I am talking about folks who were here in the 1890s, who were part of the incorporation of the City of Miami,” Mr. Moss said, referring to black residents who came from islands in the Caribbean and the US South as early as the 1890s.
“It’s important that their story is told as well. And it needs to be told in a place where everybody is going to be able to see it,” Mr. Moss said.
Although the Oct. 7 vote mentioned only the two city-owned sites, other locations were mentioned during the commissioners’ discussion, including behind AmericanAirlines Arena, where a Cuban exile history museum is to rise, and Virginia Key. A move to also consider PortMiami as a possible site for the museum was made but ultimately not pursued.
According to the county’s legislation, The Black Archives, a nonprofit, is to operate and curate the museum. The Black Archives, founded in 1977 and formally called The Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc., preserves black history in South Florida.
The decision to back a black history museum came about two months after the county commission authorized planning for a Cuban exile history museum on county-owned bayfront land behind AmericanAirlines Arena.