Miami Circle to re-open in fall but with artifact concealed
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
Brickell's historic Miami Circle should re-open to the public in September with seawall repairs reaching completion and design plans for the park under way, state and local officials say.
But for preservation's sake, the ancient circle at the mouth of the Miami River will remain concealed in limestone, officials say.
News of the site reopening came at a downtown forum last week presented by the Historical Museum of Southern Florida — which manages the 2.2-acre National Historic Landmark Miami Circle site. Museum officials recapped work completed and shared long-term plans.
The officials also reported a $250,000 shortfall on project funding, but say they are to seek additional funding and grants to cover the gap.
The state hired Orlando-based architectural firm Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin some months ago to draft a new master plan for the site — other master plans were previously completed including one by the National Park Service.
The project's design is influenced by its location on the mouth of the Miami River, the local community's efforts to restore the site and the circle's significance, said project landscape architect Jay Hood, at the forum.
Miami Circle — carbon-dated as 2,000 years old — lays just south of the mouth of the Miami River adjacent to the Related Group of Florida's Icon Brickell, a luxury hotel and condo complex.
Taxpayers bought the 38-foot circle, believed to be a remnant of the ancient Tequesta Indian culture, for $26.7 million in 1999 to restore it for public use.
Ten years later, the site is still closed off.
The process of preserving this landmark is an effort that should also be highlighted in the design, Mr. Hood said.
"This green space will be very important as this neighborhood is developing in the area," he added.
Plans include building a vehicle drop-off zone and visitor parking to provide visitors access to the site and riverwalk, he said.
To highlight the historic landmark, the architectural firm is suggesting placing pieces of limestone that delineate the circle's location to let the public know where it situated.
Some circle supporters have voiced concerns over this new master plan, which they say could absorb a chunk of the $2.2 million the Florida Legislature earmarked for the circle's restoration last year and delay construction.
But museum officials insist that is not the case.
Site plans are being expedited with permitting with the City of Miami already under way and engineering work soon to follow, said Robert McCammon, historical museum president and CEO.
"We have programming starting this September for school programs and tourist visits," he said.
The main elements slated for this year are the entrance and parking to create access, he said, but other aesthetic improvements are to be done in phases.
The passive park concept does not include park facilities or restrooms because these would add to the costs and require maintenance staff, said Ryan J. Wheeler, state archaeologist and chief of the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research.
With the need for green space in the area, he said, the plan is to preserve open areas and create access to the site.
Sponsorship opportunities for programs and events, historic tours and naming rights at the Miami Circle should be available in July, Mr. McCammon said.
The museum is hoping to fill a shortfall of at least $250,000 in funding to complete the immediate site work and open the site in September, he said.
But to implement the master plan-drawn enhancements will take more time, he said, as the museum has to raise additional funds.
Miami Circle's National Historical Landmark designation — awarded in January to become the 41st national landmark in the state — should help the museum obtain grants and other funding sources, he added.
The state is close to finishing repairs on the seawall that borders the site, which it began in March, said Mr. Wheeler, the state's archeologist.
A portion of the seawall collapsed into the Miami River in June 2007 and the state patched it up, but permanent repairs were needed.
For now, the circle remains covered by a limestone coating that conceals it from view as a preservation measure. It has been covered since the Related Group began building the Icon property.
In a 2005 letter to the state, Related listed potential contributions to the project such as building a visitor center and the "design and development" of the baywalk.
But since then, the state rejected the visitor center proposal and instead Related is said to be offering an undisclosed amount of money to the project.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson — who for years has supported efforts to safe and preserve the historic landmark — said to stakeholders at the forum that the progress made so far is symbolic of the power people can have when they join forces.
"That's what it really symbolizes to me," she said. "It's when we have a grassroots effort that results in something worth preserving in the long run."