Display Miami Circle properly, fund long-term operations
Written by Michael Lewis on July 19, 2016
If Miami history gets too little notice dating from the city’s founding in 1896, it’s nearly invisible for the thousands of years when this was a Native American community.
The state was to display one focal point of that legacy when it bought 2.2 acres at the mouth of the Miami River in Brickell in 1999 to spotlight our best-known site in Native American history, the Miami Circle. But few living people have ever seen it.
The history at the Miami Circle has been one of neglect since Miami Today’s Marilyn Bowden in a 1998 article revealed it existed under a condo development site. County archaeologist Bob Carr told her as he uncovered artifacts at the circle that “the agreement is that when they’re ready to begin construction we’ll leave.”
That day never came. The building site was nearly impossible to reach, the next year other media latched onto the circle’s existence, the public got excited and the would-be developer then sold his $8 million land purchase for $26.7 million as Florida sought to preserve a 2,000-year-old, 38-foot-diameter stone circle of Tequesta origin.
After the state purchase the site was controlled consecutively by the National Park Service, the Historical Museum of Southern Florida and now the Florida Department of State. The circle was never properly displayed. In 2003 it was reburied to protect it from weather. It’s now in effect a dog park and parking for scooters. Only recently has it gotten proper lawn care.
Without a visible circle or proper markers and storytelling, the site has been nearly useless as a historical touchstone for the beginnings of Miami and its peoples. But even if it were illuminating you couldn’t park a car to see it – the site has just a semi-circular drive for buses.
Neglect has not been intentional. Well-meaning agencies and individuals have all tried to do something proper, with all sorts of good ideas for displays, covered walkways, replicas of the buried circle and historic storytelling.
What has been lacking has not been good intentions and ideas but the money to do the job well. As is often true of public projects here, what has been available is cash to buy and to build, but seldom the funds to operate and to endow.
A parallel scenario is playing out at our now-rising science museum, where all the operating and probably the endowment money has been spent instead to build and open a gem while leaving its long-term viability in limbo. The City of Miami did the same years ago with the once-spectacular Mildred and Claude Pepper Fountain in Bayfront Park – ever even hear of it?
The Miami Circle is not just some casual state land in the heart of booming Brickell. It has been formally declared a National Historic Landmark.
So when the state tells us, as we reported last week, that it recognizes the circle’s historic significance and is committed to improve, maintain and preserve it, we’re pleased.
But we’d be happier if a concrete plan and the money were in place to back it up and to operate, publicize and endow the site properly as well.
The next phase of the state’s plan, says Kerri L. Post, deputy secretary of state, is to add pet waste stations and trash and recycling bins, plant trees, add a railing with benches and put up some interpretive signs.
That’s inexpensive, so we’ll get a really nice and clean dog park with signage. Then, she says, they’re looking at public art and a 3-D replica of the circle that’s still just a concept.
The replica and what should come with it are the minimum that the site absolutely requires – sort of what was planned a decade or so ago still being planned today. We’ll all like that.
But what the Miami Circle needs is not just the site as it should be but the money to make it attract visitors not only from out of town but Miamians, as well as the funds to care for and upgrade the site in perpetuity, regardless of future Florida budget cuts that are as inevitable as the summer rains in Miami.
Without both visionary plans and the money to achieve them regardless of the budgetary weather in Tallahassee, this newspaper will be writing again in a decade about the neglect of the Miami Circle, with dogs and scooters sitting on a historic but hidden gem.
Don’t give us the Brickell equivalent of a non-functional Pepper Fountain.
Miami and Florida do precious little to recognize the indigenous people who were our predecessors. Can’t we do one thing right, and do it in the next legislative session?