The Miami Circle comes full circle, hidden perhaps forever
By Michael Lewis
The archaeological site called the Miami Circle has now been known for almost a decade and still only a handful of people have ever seen the circle.
Under much civic pressure, the state paid $26.7 million for the site and still nobody knows what to do with it, or what it was for in the first place.
The long-term outlook now appears to be to hide the 2,000-year-old Tequesta Indian find underground in perpetuity — or right back where we started.
And the spot on the south bank of the mouth of the Miami River seems destined merely to become the front lawn of the Icon Brickell condo development, with few other visitors.
We'd have been $26.7 million better off never to have gotten involved in what was destined to be a condo project that might never have risen in the first place.
Back in April 1997, BCOM Co. bought the 1950s-era, three-story Brickell Point Apartments on the river's banks and planned to raze them to build 30- to 40-story condos. BCOM hired Wolfberg Alvarez & Partners to draw plans, though other developers questioned whether there was enough access past what then was the garage of the Sheraton Brickell hotel to get construction equipment in and out. Development was questionable.
But then BCOM got lucky in its $8 million investment at the site: Miami-Dade Archaeologist Bob Carr and his associates found a circular pattern of holes cut into the bedrock under the parking lot of the old apartments. Nearby were Indian artifacts. Study began.
"The agreement is that when they're ready to begin construction we'll leave," Mr. Carr told us in November 1998.
But construction never began. The next year, the Miami Herald learned of the find and campaigned to save the site. And it was saved when the county claimed the 2.2 acres by eminent domain and used the state's $26.7 million to buy the land.
Meanwhile, everyone tried to figure out how to display the circle to the public. There were county, state and federal studies. There were plans for covered walkways and covered display areas. But there was no more money. Enough money to buy the site, yes. Enough to use it, no.
While meeting after meeting was held to decide how to make the Miami Circle public, in 2003 the circle was buried again so the elements wouldn't destroy it. And it remains buried beside the construction site for the now-rising Icon Brickell towers.
Now the National Park Service, which last year forfeited control of the circle site to the management of the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, has issued a report with three possibilities and called for public suggestions by Feb. 22. The only financially feasible Park Service ideas both call for putting a marker on the land and leaving the circle buried — perhaps forever. The museum's current plans are similarly vague.
To put it all in perspective: after the circle was carefully buried to protect it, two more similar circles surrounded by Indian artifacts were dug up on the north bank of the Miami River as condo construction took place there. Nobody tried to preserve them, and the condos rose. Presumably, one circle is a unique archaeological site but several circles are just plain useless.
On the other hand, how important is it to the public to have a unique archaeological find that no one may ever see?