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3/18/03 - Daily Business Review

Controversial historical designation becomes the latest battleground in the fight over the proposed Little Haiti Park

By: Alina Matas

The city of Miami is considering whether Magic City Trailer Park, a 6.5-acre enclave in Little Haiti, houses a historical treasure: about 20 wooden cabins that were used as a motel in the 1920s.

Previously unreported city documents show the historic designation is being contemplated in the context of the proposed Little Haiti park.

A report analyzing the historical value of the property and submitted to city officials by consulting firm Janus Research, states, "The property is located in an area identified as a potential location for a new Little Haiti park. Because the property remains as such an important example of an early 20th century tourist attraction in the city of Miami, the rehabilitation and reuse of the buildings should be incorporated into plans for the park."

Magic City owner Robert Mayer, who recently received notice that his property is on the verge of achieving landmark status, says the city seems to have a hidden agenda.

"This is part of an attempt to lower the value of the property and create the park," Mayer said. "I think it's a fraud, and I think it's a shame the city has fallen to this level."

Magic City trailer park, at 6001 to 6005 NE Second Ave., is within a 60-acre area of Little Haiti the city has targeted for a park. Mayer, like other property owners in the district, is concerned the city eventually will move to take property through eminent domain, because it hasn't found willing sellers in the district.

The area targeted for the park, between Northeast 59th and 67th streets, from Second Avenue to the railroad tracks, covers Little Haiti's industrial and warehouse district, various apartment buildings, some vacant lots and two trailer parks, including Magic City. Most of the property in the district is privately owned. So far, the city hasn't been able to close any deals with private sellers.

Mayer, who owns the property with his brother and his cousin, said the city never contacted them to discuss the proposed historic designation.

Sarah Eaton, the city's director of historic preservation, didn't return repeated phone calls seeking comment. Ana Gelabert-Sanchez, director of the city's Planning Department, which sent Mayer the notification of the proposed historic designation, also did not return several phone calls.

Mayer last week brought his concerns to the city's Parks Advisory Board, a group of 19 volunteers that advises city commissioners on matters relating to the administration of its 108 park properties, which operate on an annual budget of $10 million to $11 million.

The board raised an eyebrow upon hearing for the first time about the proposed Little Haiti park, and about the designation of Magic City Trailer Park as a historic property. The board for months has been planning the preparation of a master plan that the city Parks and Recreation Department will use as a cohesive guide for allocating dollars and planning park projects.

Board members said they were surprised the proposed Little Haiti park had never been brought to their attention. The park has been championed by City Commissioner Arthur Teele, who two years ago put together a working group of community members and some city staffers to draw the boundaries of the proposed park.

"We were quite surprised that a park of that magnitude hadn't been presented to the board for our input or comment," said Rick Walsh, chairman of the Parks Advisory Board. "We would like that to go through the master plan process, because of the impact it will have in the community."

According to a recent study prepared by consulting firm Post Buckley Schuh ~Jernigan, acquisition of the entire 60 acres for the park would cost between $53.8 million and $76.4 million. It would displace 112 businesses employing 600 people and more than 280 low-income residents. The city has allocated $25 million of its recent bond issue for the creation of the Little Haiti park.

Park Advisory Board members last week unanimously voted to ask city commissioners to stop all work on the Little Haiti park until it is incorporated into the master plan. The resolution will be presented to commissioners at its meeting later this month, when the board also will ask that the city approve a $535,000 contract with landscape architects Falcon ~Bueno, to prepare the master plan.

Blanco said Monday the Parks Advisory Board asked Eaton to go before the preservation board today to seek a deferral in discussions on the historic designation of Magic City until the Little Haiti park is included in the master plan.

"She will present it to the board and let them decide," Blanco said.

Meanwhile, Mayer said he isn't insensitive to historical architecture and is willing to donate the cabins to the city. Mayer said he doesn't want a historic designation on the land itself, because that would prevent him from pursuing any redevelopment of his property.

All but eight of the cabins are shuttered, because they're inhabitable. The cabins are pretty much irreparable, Mayer said, because their size doesn't meet current building codes and their wooden foundations are too deteriorated.

"They can have them. I'll give them to them," said Mayer, who has been interviewing lawyers to fight the proposed historic designation.