Miami Circle site planners to weigh opening, links to nearby sites
By Mindy Hagen
Short-term plans such as opening the Miami Circle to the public and long-term plans that could link it to Indian burial grounds at Brickell Park are on the drawing board for an 18-member state planning group assigned to oversee the circle's site on the Miami River's southern bank.
Planning group members said taxpayers deserve to have immediate access to the circle after paying $26.7 million to save it. But reaction was mixed Monday at the group's first meeting about incorporating other nearby Native American archaeological sites into plans for a permanent display.
The group, appointed by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris in February, is responsible for overseeing the Miami Circle and developing a plan of action for the historic Tequesta Village.
Janet Snyder Matthews, director of the Florida Division of Historical Resources and group chair, said the committee has no authority to combine the circle with ancient remains recently found in adjacent Brickell Park, owned by the City of Miami. The remains are thought to be from Tequestas of the same time period.
"We don't have any authority beyond this 2.2-acre parcel," she said. "Our responsibility comes out of the state's purchase of this site."
Becky Roper Matkov, executive director of the Dade Heritage Trust, said the group needs to realize "the bigger picture.
"Since the burial site was found in Brickell Park, it is more than likely that it was connected to the circle," Ms. Matkov said. "Even though it's complicated, it makes sense to somehow combine all of the findings in the area."
Ms. Matkov recommended space in the First Presbyterian Church of Miami, 609 Brickell Ave., for an exhibit detailing all Native American findings in the area instead of constructing a building at the circle.
"The church is a fabulous facility with wonderful spaces," she said. "We could make this a unique destination by joining a building of western spirituality with a site of Native American spirituality."
The Rev. Laurie Kraus, who sits on an administrative commission overseeing the First Presbyterian's redevelopment, said the church would be open to new possibilities in serving the surrounding community.
"I can't speak for the congregation, but as someone involved in the oversight, I know that we all take very seriously the historical opportunities and the sacred trust of having the Miami Circle and Brickell Park cemetery nearby," she said. "The potential exists to enter into conversation about the role of the church in highlighting the community it serves."
Rev. Kraus also said she thinks there would be adequate space for a small exhibit in a "substantial" building that formerly housed the church's ministeries.
Discovered in 1998 while the downtown land was being prepared for the construction of twin high-rise condominium towers, the Miami Circle is thought to have once been a trading center from about 100 A.D. More than 200,000 uncovered artifacts from the site show the circle was used as far back as 400-700 B.C.
Michael Spring, director of Miami-Dade's Department of Cultural Affairs, advocated creating a temporary structure to protect the circle from weather until final plans are in place. He said he could come up with designs and a cost estimate by the group's next meeting, scheduled for October.
"Right now we need to identify revenue sources to create public access as soon as possible," Mr. Spring said. "We have an obligation to move as quickly as we can."
Through $18 million in grants, including $15 million in funds from the state, and an $8.7 million bridge loan from the Trust for Public Lands, Miami-Dade County was able to buy the land from the developer in November 1999 and preserve the Miami Circle. The county still has to repay $6.7 million and is looking at federal funding options and private contributions to meet the Nov. 30 deadline for repaying the loan.
Mr. Spring also presented sketches of signs that could be placed around the circle to make the site an educational exhibit. But some group members cautioned Mr. Spring to ensure that temporary plans wouldn't impede on a permanent display, especially in light of cultural concerns voiced by Native Americans who attended the meeting.
"We need to find a way to make the significance of the site understood," said Jorge Hernandez, an architect and member of the Florida Historic Preservation Advisory Council. "At the same time, we don't know what the site means as an image to all people."