Supporter hopes for 2008 opening of naval museum
By Risa Polansky
A contract to restore Richmond Naval Air Station and convert it to the Military Museum and Veterans Memorial of South Florida has moved from the county's Office of Historic Preservation to the Office of Capital Improvements. The Friends of the Museum's executive director said he hopes this means an early-2008 museum opening.
"We already have work scheduled to begin - we're just waiting for them to issue the contract," said Anthony Atwood, executive director of the Friends of the Military Museum and Veterans Memorial of South Florida. "I feel calmly confident."
Mr. Atwood and six other veterans began trying to salvage the station about 10 years ago. In November 2004, county voters approved a bond referendum that allotted $2 million to the project. In 2005, the county sold the bonds.
"The funding is now available, and the county is preparing to sign a contract with the Friends of the Military Museum so they can receive that funding," Carlos Dunn, historic preservation specialist at the Office of Historic Preservation, said Monday. There is no way to foresee the length of the contract approval process, he said, but as for a 2008 museum opening, "that's the idea."
The building, once a World War II Navy headquarters and later training ground for the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, is to contain military artifacts and function as a veterans' memorial.
"This county has many people who have served. Freedom is not free, and we would not be here if not for service to the country," said Mr. Atwood, a Navy veteran. "There will be a quiet area for people to reflect. It will be good for the community from that respect, and it will also be an added attraction for South Dade."
The former naval station is near Miami MetroZoo. Mr. Atwood said if all goes as planned, about $750,000 of the $2 million would be spent to move the building 0.2 mile closer to the zoo to "bring the building where the public is already going."
If the contract is approved, money will go out in three increments.
Mr. Atwood said the first $350,000 will be used to make crucial repairs and to execute a "master plan," which will involve research to set up a concrete focus of the museum, using demographics to determine things like the public's exhibit preferences.
The second increment of $750,000 would relocate the building. The last almost $1 million would pay for exhibits, Mr. Atwood said.
"There will be materials with a local focus in the museum," Mr. Atwood said, "such as exhibits about Cuban-American veterans."
Representatives of the Office of Capital Improvements couldn't give a time frame in which a contract would be approved and money dispersed. Any changes to the standard contract - which has yet to be reviewed - could lengthen the process.
"We just received the contract. We have to review it here in our office," said Jose Galan, Capital Improvements' chief of program legislation. "If we approve it, it will move to the county attorney for approval and ultimately back to the Board of County Commissioners, assuming the kind of changes requested are substantive. If the changes are minor, it may not have to go back to the board, eliminating that step."
Mr. Atwood said he is "being optimistic" in naming his ideal opening date of New Year's Day 2008.
"What they (county government representatives) say is that they want to move along with these things," he said. "They know time is an important factor in historical preservation."