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Front Page » Top Stories » Childrens Museum Would Be First Of Five Attractions On Watson Island

Childrens Museum Would Be First Of Five Attractions On Watson Island

Written by on October 19, 2000

By Candice Ventra
The new Miami Children’s Museum and the relocation of Parrot Jungle could be the start of at least five tourism-related destinations on 86-acre Watson Island.

But at least two of the projects — a visitor center and a cruise ship terminal — remain proposals, although City of Miami officials have been crafting development plans to make the island a cohesive local attraction for more than two decades.

As of today, executives at Parrot Jungle see a Watson Island address that includes the Serpentarium, a 500-seat theater for reptile shows, and a bird nursery, which would allow visitors to look at hatchlings and young birds in various stages of development, said spokesman Eric Eimstad.

The facility is expected to create 600 jobs within 10 years of its opening, he said. The job creation could justify the use of county funds.

Parrot Jungle was started by an Austrian, Franz Scherr, who moved to the US in 1911. He kept several parrots and rare birds on display at a feed store he opened in Homestead after the Depression. He later opened Parrot Jungle, which was passed along to his descendants in 1973. The facility is now owned by aviculturist Bern Levine and his wife Mary Levine.

"Several years ago we were given a major use permit by the City of Miami," Mr. Eimstad said. "We have been working on this project for five years."

He said there have been minor shifts in the design, none substantive. The project should break ground this year and be finished in two years, he said.

The jungle, Mr. Eimstad said, will go on 16.2 acres and includes a 1,000-seat dining hall.

The project is $47 million — $25 million financed through a federal Housing & Urban Development loan through Miami-Dade County, he said. About $12 million came through a traditional bank loan. The rest was funded through corporate and individual donors.

In addition, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau wants to build a 45,000-square-foot headquarters and visitor center on the Island, said William Talbert, president & CEO.

The Florida Department of Transportation originally set aside the money to reconstruct a regional heliport there then operated by Chalk’s International Airlines.

The proposed visitor center has been in the works for nearly a decade but was halted when Chalk’s went bankrupt and no longer carried with it the state funds. Now the visitors’ center is proposed to be built and financed in conjunction with a reconstructed heliport.

If built with an aviation facility, about 45% of the financing for the $6 million visitor center was promised by the Florida Department of Transportation, city records show. About 55% of funding was allocated through the bureau’s budget.

"We are ready to start," Mr. Talbert said. "We should have started a long time ago."

About 32,000 square feet of the building will be used for the bureau’s administrative offices, he said.

Construction is to begin by the end of September 2001 and will be finished by June 2003, he said.

Officials at the Port of Miami also have wanted to add two cruise ship terminals to Watson Island. Port officials said Tuesday they could not answer questions about the status of the Watson Island cruise ship proposals.

The port may have to compete with ideas for a mega-yacht facility, favored by at least one city official.

Robert Parente, chairman of the Miami Waterfront Advisory Board, said he thinks a yacht facility would be a better addition to the island than cruise ship terminals. He said a yacht marina would be more lucrative for the city.

"We could do an incredible business because we have a premier location," he said. "Someone can dock their boat, go see the Heat play, go to Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant — what a dream life!" Details: Miami Children’s Museum, (305) 373-5439; Parrot Jungle, (305) 666-7834; Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, (305) 539-3000; Port of Miami, (305) 371-7678.