Full circle: Quest for other treasures stalls historic site parking
By Robert Grattan
Two thousand years after the Tequesta tribe built a structure at the Miami Circle, and 12 years after taxpayers bought the circle, construction on a parking lot to complement the historical site may be delayed by concern that even more archeological treasures could be unearthed or damaged.
State law requires that an archeological study be conducted and approval be granted by the Florida Division of Historical Resources, which coordinates construction projects on state-owned lands to identify and protect historic sites, before the Miami Parking Authority may begin construction on an already-budgeted parking lot near the Brickell Bridge.
"Just as the bones and the artifacts were found at the mouth of the river, there is a concern that something similar might be found under the bridge," said Rolando Tapanes, the parking authority's director of planning and development.
The study's extra cost might prove to be a serious setback for the tightly budgeted parking project.
Around $90,000 of city money has been allocated for the lot, Mr. Tapanes said, and "there isn't enough room in that budget to absorb an additional $10,000 to $15,000."
To avoid a lengthy re-budgeting process, the parking authority has submitted archeological studies from surrounding buildings to serve as the project's resource assessment and offered to hire an independent archeologist to supervise construction, according to documents submitted to the state's historical resources division.
But the sum of the resource assessments submitted by the authority "does not include the entire site where we would construct," Mr. Tapanes said.
The Division of Historical Resources is ultimately to decide how the parking lot can be constructed.
"There has been no prior archeological study for that area," said Laura Kammerer, a preservationist supervisor for the state division, in reference to the planned location under the bridge.
In the past, prior archeological studies, officially called cultural resource assessments, have been accepted for new construction, Ms. Kammerer said.
An archeological study could be re-used "if [the study] was done recently, perhaps. I'd have to look at the survey and decide," she said. "We already know there are human remains that have been found in the area."
If remains are found, "they either rebury them and leave them alone, or they deal with the tribe and relocate them somewhere else," Ms. Kammerer added. "It's a lengthy process."
The Miami Circle site at 401 Brickell Ave. was discovered during a similar archeological study conducted after a 1998 demolition to make way for a high-rise condominium.
After the ruins were discovered, the state bought the site for $26 million in 1999 and eventually construction was started on a $1 million park funded by several state and local organizations.
The Miami Circle is currently managed by HistoryMiami, formerly known as the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, but the parking authority would operate the planned parking site.
The Florida Department of Transportation, which owns the property under the bridge, and the parking authority have approved a leasing agreement for the site, Mr. Tapanes said.
The parking authority plans to install meters to charge for parking to offset the cost of building the lot, and remaining revenues are to get divided between the state's transportation department and the parking authority.
Until parking spaces are added, HistoryMiami is encouraging visitors to get to the circle using public transportation.
"The way we promote the Miami Circle is to tell people to take public transportation or find their own parking," said Victoria Cervantes, HistoryMiami's spokeswoman.
Visitors who choose to drive to the park must go out of their way, Mr. Tapanes said.
"Right now, you either have to valet park at the Viceroy [hotel], or park on the other side of Brickell Avenue and cross Brickell, which is a six-lane highway."
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