Miami reverses stance to sell park donated by pioneer family
By Paola Iuspa
Reversing a decade-old stand to sell Brickell Park, City of Miami commissioners have decided to retain the site as open, waterfront space.
Commissioner Johnny Winton said officials changed their position because they realized the Brickell area, home to a growing commercial and residential high-rise population, was in need of parks.
After having fought to preserve the 2.3 acres on Biscayne Bay tucked among office skyscrapers, the Save Brickell Park Coalition feels victorious, said Megan Kelly, senior vice president of Swire Properties, developer of affluent Brickell Key and a member of the group. The site is on the east side of Brickell Avenue between the Sheraton Biscayne Bay Hotel and First Presbyterian Church.
"The park is critical for the quality of life of this neighborhood," she said.
The commission's new approach could mean the end of a controversy started in 1987 when the city passed a resolution recognizing the site as prime for development and making public its intent to sell.
Immediately, the Brickell family, which in 1925 donated the land to be used as a park, filed a suit to reclaim the land. After years of litigation, in 1999 both parties agreed to sell the parcel and equally split the proceeds.
That agreement expired in October, city attorney Alex Vilarello said. No developer had ventured to buy the site, which a local archeologist has said is likely to be a Native American burial ground.
The park would need to be rezoned for commercial or residential use, said Mr. Winton, who in 1999 was the only dissenting vote opposing sale of the park. If purchased for development, federal law also would require more archeological tests and, if found to be a burial ground, the appropriate relocation of remains.
Robert Gallagher Jr., the attorney representing the Brickell family, said he was aware of the commission's decision. He said it was up to the city to make the next move.
Mr. Vilarello said the next step is to win the 1987 Brickell suit, which claimed the city violated the deed's revert condition, which called for the land to go back to the family if the city stopped using it as a park.
If the city attorney is able to prove the city did not violate that provision, the park would be preserved, he said.
"The deed restriction was never violated," Mr. Vilarello said.
The trial has still to be scheduled.
"The Brickell family is reviewing the city's decision," Mr. Gallagher said, "and analyzing how to proceed."
Ms. Kelly, also a member of the Miami Downtown Development Authority, a nonprofit in charge of marketing downtown Miami to developers and investors, said coalition members started last month to raise funds to pay for streetscape improvements for the portion of Brickell Avenue facing the park.
The recently completed streetscape plan would change the avenue's image from south of the Miami River to 15th Road, she said. The coalition, with support from the Miami Roads Neighborhood Civic Association, the Building Owners & Management Association of Greater Miami-Dade, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Miccosukee Indian Tribe, has raised $5,000.
Commissioners reached the decision not to sell last week during a closed-door meeting. Park advocates said they have been "kept in dark" for years about how the city was handling the issue.
"There is something wrong with this process," said Gregory Bush, chairman of the city's Parks Advisory Board. He said he was not aware of the change. "They made this decision at an executive session. No one knows what happened."
Mr. Bush and his group, the Urban Environment League, have been raising funds to shoot a documentary about Brickell Park's history. He said he wanted to use the film to make the community aware of the importance of preserving the park.
Despite the city's intention to keep the park, Mr. Bush said he plans to go ahead with the documentary, which would be part of a series showcasing Miami's public spaces.