Panel hopes to reopen Virginia Key Beach Park this year
By Deserae del Campo
A small piece of paradise off downtown's shores is getting a second chance to open to the public thanks to the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust.
Virginia Key Beach Park, on Virginia Key between downtown Miami and Key Biscayne, has been closed since 1982, when the City of Miami couldn't keep up with the costs of maintenance and operations.
The park trust is hoping to reopen the beach to the public in late November.
Since 2000, the trust has been based on the fifth floor of the Union Planters Bank building at 3550 Biscayne Blvd., but it hopes to move back into the park within a couple of weeks.
"We'll be right there in the park overseeing its progress and pushing things along," said Judi Hamilton, trust marketing media director.
In 1999, the Miami commission established the trust to oversee development of the park. In August 2002, the park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The beach opened in August 1945, during the era of segregation, open only to persons of color. In the days before a bridge linked the key to the mainland, it was accessible only by boat from a downtown dock on the Miami River.
The beach is to reopen with its old amenities, which include a carousel, mini-train and concession stand where vendors in the 1950s sold soda pop and corn dogs.
The buildings have been restored. They include the original bathhouse, concession stand, carousel, tunnel for the mini-train, beach pavilion and dance floor.
The trust also wants to build a park museum and cultural center to open late in 2008.
"This is one place in Miami where you don't see the tall buildings of downtown but you see the ocean, the trees and its flora," said David Shorter, trust executive director. "It's a natural experience for anyone to enjoy."
"In the park, we'll have an event lawn overlooking the beach," Ms. Hamilton said. "We would be able to host a philharmonic orchestra if we want. This redevelopment at the park is for everyone to enjoy. It will be a multicultural destination and a fabulous site for tourists along with locals."
City, county and federal funds have helped preserve the park. The trust last year received $15.5 million in General Obligation Bond funds, said Paul E. Thompson, trust development director, for completion of infrastructure at the park, construction of the museum and other projects.