Navigation district funds pivotal to save Henry Flagler worker’s home
The Miami River Commission has for many years been asking the City of Miami to clean up Fort Dallas Park – and, most urgently, to save Palm Cottage, a unique piece of the city’s early history now located within the park’s gates – from the ravages of time. Recent interest from the Florida Inland Navigation District, or FIND, could come to the rescue.
“I encourage the City of Miami to submit a grant application in order for the Florida Inland Navigation District to consider providing 50% of the city’s costs to design and construct needed repairs and enhancements to Fort Dallas Park’s dock and public riverwalk,” said Spencer Crowley, a Florida Inland Navigation District board member.
The Navigation District was created by the Florida Legislature in 1927 as a special taxing district serving as local sponsor for the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Today it consists of the 12 counties along the East Coast of Florida, from Nassau through Miami-Dade.
The Navigation District’s Waterway Assistance Program Grants for local governments fund such projects as public waterway access facilities, waterfront parks and boating safety projects directly related to the waterways, but not structural rehabilitation of buildings.
However, said Miami River Commission Chair Horacio Stuart Aguirre in a written statement, it does suggest a practical solution.
“The City of Miami’s riverfront Fort Dallas Park, located at the Riverwalk Metromover station, has incredible potential,” he said. “The Miami River Commission respectfully recommends the City of Miami provide the time-sensitive structural stabilization needed to save the site’s historically designated Palm Cottage, followed by applying for a Florida Inland Navigation District grant for a 50% cost share to design and construct repairs and improvements to the closed park’s dock and public riverwalk.”
Fort Dallas Park and Palm Cottage, also known as Flagler’s Workers House, hark back to the time of Miami’s founders.
“Twelfth Street (now Flagler Street) … was one of Miami’s finest residential addresses,” historian Arva Moore Parks wrote in “Miami: The Magic City.” After Miami pioneer Julia Tuttle’s death, Ms. Parks wrote, her son Harry “subdivided his mother’s home place and platted Fort Dallas Park, Miami’s first exclusive walled subdivision.” It was designated a public park in 1983.
When Henry Flagler, whom Ms. Parks dubbed a “benevolent dictator”– laying out streets, building water and power companies, and donating land for the new city’s City Hall, market, jail and school – heard that some of his employees could not find a place to live, he built two streets of affordable middle-class houses to accommodate them. Palm Cottage, built in 1897 and designated an Historic Site by the City of Miami in 1983, is the sole survivor.
But years of neglect have taken their toll. A general assessment report commissioned in 2018 from Douglas Wood Associates Inc. stated that the structure was in a state of “Substantial Structural Damage,” as defined in the Florida Building Code. There were also a number of areas labeled “Dangerous Conditions.”
The cost of rehabilitation and restoration, the report stated, “would be in the range of $600,000 to $900,000” – not including professional fees, development costs, special interior construction or site improvements.
Since then, at least half a dozen proposals have fallen by the wayside. The adjoining dock and public riverwalk were virtually destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017. The park has been blocked off and forgotten for years, attracting trash and the homeless.
Meanwhile the river commission is investigating any and all grants that might help to restore Palm Cottage to a state of structural stability, while urging the City of Miami to apply for a 2022 grant from the Florida Inland Navigation District to help with the reconstruction of Fort Dallas Park’s dock and the riverwalk. This may be its last opportunity to make that Historic Site designation truly significant.