Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Miami: The White Trash City
One of our favorite local blogs, Boom or Bust: Miami, recently posted some great shots of the new balloon ride getting ready to launch in downtown Miami. We have been looking forward to seeing that new attraction get off the ground for sometime now but were surprised to find where the City of Miami allowed it to set up shop: right on top of the Claude and Mildred Pepper Fountain. The fountain and Bayfront Park as we now know it was designed by famed sculptor and landscape architect the late Isamu Noguchi beginning in 1979. Over the course of a decade, Noguchi and the city grew the park from a non-descript collection of bad architecture (a public library now demolished) and a hodgepodge of trees and perverts into a world-class park. Part of the design included a laser tower which bounced laser beams off buildings all around downtown. The laser tower and the fountain have been non-functioning testimonials to good ideas gone bad in the hands of the visionless for many years.
And what a shame. The lasers were removed years ago and the bottom of the tower was turned into a cheap kiosk. The fountain, because of its design-- at one time the city estimated it cost over $300,000 a year to operate and maintain (the electric bill was humongous because of the power needed to run the giant pumps to create the illusion of waves)-- eventually was shut down due to operating costs and maintenance problems. A quick Google search shows the Claude and Mildred Pepper Foundation is still working to get it up and running consistently since it lists a recent grant to the Bayfront Park Management Trust, a misnomer if ever there was one (in 2004, minutes of a City of Miami meeting show resolutions to fund maintenance of the fountain and acceptance of a proposal for the balloon attraction). We wonder if the Foundation knows of the fountain's fate?*
This is just another example of MVB's take on local government: Miami is a white trash city where we prop up balloon rides on the work of one of the planet's most visionary and influential artists. From the sad state of the Miami Marine Stadium to the forgotten and discarded genius of a world class artist and his esteemed memorial to one of this region's few politicians who wasn't in it for the money, Miami is a white trash city where our best ideas end rusting and neglected up on blocks in Miami's weed infested front yard.
*UpDate (7pm): MVB, your activist blog, sent an email to Tom Herndon, chairman of the the Claude and Mildred Pepper Foundation this afternoon. We got a response a little after five today. It appears not only did he not know about Miami using the Noguchi fountain for a base to launch balloon flights, he is discussing it with the board. We also emailed every TV station and the Miami Herald and Miami Today. The Herald got back and spent nearly 80-minuets on our site gleaning information-- and hopefully some indignant attitude. It will be interesting to see where this goes.
UpDate (9/14): The Miami Herald ran a story today in the Business section touting the attraction. Nothing about building it on top of the Noguchi fountain-- although a huge color photo shows just that. I guess we don't have as much influence as we thought we had.
UpDate (10/11): Miami Today joins us a month after this post in condemning this asinine project in an editorial by its publisher Michael Lewis titled: City's centerpiece of beauty and history gone with the wind. It's a great read and provides a deeper history regarding the fountain.
UpDate (4/18/08): Sometimes you win by attrition. Miami Today announced that the balloon ride is kaput. Couldn't find enough riders to make a profit. A $67,500 deposit by the company will be used to restore the fountain. Too bad the fountain's fate rests in the hands of its Trust. Never heard from Mr. Herndon regarding this matter after he was initially informed about it-- he learned about it through us-- at least officially (who knows what goes on behind closed doors in this town). We wonder what kind of effort he made to scuttle the plan in the first place. It appears that he allowed the cheap balloon ride to fester for 7 months. What if the attraction had become a success? If this is the kind of watch guard the fountain has, good luck to us all-- or to at least those who aren't easily impressed with cheap thrill rides.
UpDate (4/27): The balloon company has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy saving itself from its creditors in order to find funds to pay them off. Which is to say, the "ride" isn't going away anytime soon.
UpDate (5/24): Sometimes you have to look for signs that there is justice in the world. Usually it's on the back page or buried in a newspaper. In this instance, it was the last item in a column in Miami Today. Bayfront Park Management Trust (two misnomers if there ever were) has requested legal help to hire an outside attorney from the Miami City Commission to get their money back. SkyLift Holdings defaulted on about $103,000 in payments due to the "Trust" before filing for Chapter 11 reorganization. For the record, the bureaucratic bozo behind this cockamamied scheme: Trust Executive Director, Timothy F. Schmand.