12 years after discovery, public to get Miami Circle access
By Marilyn Bowden
If all goes according to plan, the public will have limited access to the Miami Circle site by the end of the year.
Construction on the park at the mouth of the Miami River in Brickell, designed by the Orlando-based architectural firm Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin, began in June, said Ryan Wheeler, chief of the state's
Bureau of Archaeological Research.
Miami-based Zurqui Construction Services is construction manager.
"Things are looking good, now that construction is under way," said Spencer Crowley III, an Akerman Senterfitt attorney who represents Miami-Dade County on the board of the Florida Inland Navigation District, which finances shoreline improvements.
He said the Florida Department of Environmental Protection last week issued a permit for a stormwater well, a crucial component of the site's drainage system.
On the day after the permit was issued, construction on the well had begun, said Jorge Zamanillo, curator of object collections at HistoryMiami, the museum that manages the site.
"Another milestone coming up," Mr. Crowley said, "will be planting some of the bigger trees on site, to give them time to adapt before the park opens."
The park will be integrated into the Riverwalk project, Dr. Wheeler said, and will include interpretative signage about the history of the property as well as the Miami Circle.
"There's a bus turnaround loop for tour groups, accessible handicap parking and a walkway going out to a patio around the area," he said. "Right now we're looking at completion in December or January."
Mr. Crowley said an archaeologist is on site at all times during construction to be sure that the fragile structure is not damaged.
The fragility of the 2,000-year-old Native American artifact, uncovered in 1998 during a routine pre-construction survey and now designated a National Historic Landmark, remains an obstacle in allowing direct access to it. At the moment, it's buried under layers of protective limestone.
"It would be interesting for people to be able to see the Circle itself," Dr. Wheeler said. "Unfortunately we have not been able to resolve the issue of how to exhibit it and yet keep it safe. There are considerations in terms of both the natural environment and vandalism."
He said planners continue to look at future development options, such as some way to let visitors view at least part of the Circle from above, but that would require building a structure over it, and there are no funds for that right now.
The passive park now under construction will cost about $1.1 million.
"We have funding from lots of different sources," Dr. Wheeler said. "We had about $750,000 left from the money that was approved by the Legislature for seawall restoration.
"We also have a grant from the Florida Inland Navigation Project for $150,000. HistoryMiami is contributing financing, as is the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Downtown Development Authority, South Florida Water Management District and the City of Miami, through Commissioner Marc Sarnoff's office.
"All of it has been very critical in helping make the basic park happen. We're trying to develop a park that is sustainable and low-maintenance, not something that will be a burden to its managers."
Parking has been a problem for planners right from the start, Mr. Crowley said, but the Miami Parking Authority is looking into solutions that will not impact the site itself.
Executive Director Art Noriega said Parking Authority engineers are working on a design for a parking area beneath the Brickell Avenue Bridge.
"We have a very rough layout that allows for 19 spaces," he said.
Once the design is final, probably within 30-45 days, he said, "we will be able to get some bids on the project. Completion should be running fairly parallel with the park's opening."
School tours of the site will get under way once construction is done, Mr. Zamanillo said. In the meantime, HistoryMiami is preparing supplementary materials.
"We've just finished producing the four interpretive graphic panels that will go up on site," he said. "We're putting together a brochure with a site map, as well as a podcast audio tour people can download."
In addition, Mr. Zamanillo said, HistoryMiami is producing a half-hour film about the discovery of the Miami Circle that will include some previously unseen footage.
"It will be shown at the museum," he said, "but people can also stream it from our Website."
Artifacts uncovered during excavations at the site are on display at the museum in a permanent exhibition section called "First Arrivals," he said.
Once a construction completion date is firmed up, Mr. Zamanillo said HistoryMiami plans to schedule a grand opening.