Today’s Miami Herald reports that the City of Miami has approved funding for the remediation of 8 acres of land that will serve as the future home of Miami Art Museum and Miami Science Museum. The City funding comes one month after Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess gave the go-ahead for public bond funding for the art museum project. After years of patiently waiting, it seems the construction of Miami’s new ‘cultural port’ has the green light to move forward. As Miami City Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff explains, “There is no government impediment any longer.”
Environmental cleanup to pave way for museums
By Andres Viglucci
Work crews will clear the way for construction of downtown Miami’s long-planned Museum Park this month when they begin removing thousands of cubic yards of contaminated soil from the site of the old Bicentennial Park.
The $2 million environmental remediation job, which is to be completed by Nov. 1, marks the start of a controversial, multiyear construction project that would produce two new publicly funded bayfront museums dedicated to art and science and a roughly 20-acre park along Biscayne Boulevard. The project’s backers have known for years that the site — once the home of the Port of Miami, an oil terminal and a couple of gas stations — would require cleanup. But the city didn’t want to commit the money for the job, which officials describe as routine, until major funding for the museum project was in place.
Now, eight years after city leaders first conceived of it, Museum Park has acquired significant momentum, making a project whose feasibility some prominent critics have questioned appear now to be a near-certainty. In May, Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess concluded the Miami Art Museum had secured sufficient money in pledges from private donors to receive $100 million in voter-approved bond proceeds, paving the way for construction of the facility’s new, $200 million home. Burgess’ certification, in turn, prompted the city’s Omni Community Redevelopment Agency to approve release last month of up to $2 million for the environmental cleanup of the roughly eight-acre site for the art museum and the planned new Miami Science Museum, both of which would sit at the north end of the 29-acre Bicentennial Park, which is east of Biscayne Boulevard and south of Interstate 395.
The museum administrations, working in tandem, are in charge of the construction project, which they say will be underway quickly. Because they have already obtained environmental permits and hired a contractor, Suffolk Construction Co., the cleanup can begin almost immediately, said Miami Science Museum Chief Operating Officer Frank Steslow. There is no precise start date, but Suffolk vice president Tim Sterling said work should begin by the end of July. The job must be done by Nov. 1 to allow Cirque du Soleil to begin installation of its annual temporary show facilities in Bicentennial Park. The circus uses the future museum site for parking.
“The idea is we would be ready to roll sometime in July because we need to have it completed by then,” Steslow said. The environmental cleanup would leave a flat, graded site, ready for construction of a shared, one-level parking garage that would underlie the two museums, he said. Garage construction and foundation work should start once the circus show closes in early December. So would work on extending utility lines to the site.
The art museum would be completed by the end of 2012, MAM chairman Aaron Podhurst has said. The county has not yet agreed to release bond money for the $275 million science museum, planning and fundraising for which is running about a year behind MAM’s. With MAM’s public funding secured, though, the CRA was obligated under long-standing agreements to release money for the cleanup.
“There is no government impediment any longer,” said Miami City Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff, who also chairs the Omni CRA. “Podhurst says they’re absolutely ready to go, and I take him at his word.”
The environmental cleanup will cover only the eight-acre museum site. The rest of the planned park, to be built by the city of Miami, would be cleaned up later. Soil tests conducted at the site several years ago found elevated levels of arsenic in the soil, as well as some petroleum residue, presumably from the Belcher Oil terminal once located there. Testing also uncovered two abandoned underground gasoline tanks in the park, remnants of service stations once located along Biscayne Boulevard. Both tanks were promptly removed. Though not alarmingly high, the levels of arsenic in the soil exceeded allowable standards. Its source is unclear, though arsenic often occurs naturally. Another possible source: material used to fill in the ship berths after the Port of Miami moved to nearby Dodge Island.
“It’s likely a combination of factors,” said Wilbur Mayorga, pollution-control chief of Miami-Dade’s Department of Environmental Resources Management. “Some arsenic concentrations are naturally occurring, and there may be inappropriate fill materials used prior to regulation.”
The approved remedy calls for trucking away topsoil to an appropriate disposal site, including much of a large mound of fill on the museum parcel, then capping the soil with the garage’s concrete floor. A retaining wall, part of the original Bicentennial Park design, will also have to come down, Steslow said.