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Miami leaders debate future of historic bungalow downtown

MIAMI – One after one, a parade of public speakers urged City of Miami commissioners Thursday to keep a small property showcasing Miami’s young architectural history just where it is — surrounded by sky-high buildings in Brickell.

The charming wooden bungalow was the office of Dr. James Jackson, Miami’s first physician, whose name graces Jackson Memorial Hospital.

For the past 44-years, Dade Hertiage Trust has been the property’s caretaker. To pick up the tab to maintain it, it currently operates as a visitor center, an exhibition space and hosts K-12 educational programming.

But in an era of tight city budgets, particularly during a pandemic, there’s been a conversation at City Hall whether to move the home and sell the land for a quick infusion of cash

The office of Miami's first physician is now a flashpoint in the ongoing quarrel between the past and the future.
The office of Miami's first physician is now a flashpoint in the ongoing quarrel between the past and the future. (Photo courtesy of Dade Heritage Trust)

One issue is the lot’s small size.

“We did an analysis and it is not very developable,” Miami Commissioner Ken Russell said.

In 2016, voters approved a charter amendment for a low-rent Dade Hertiage Trust long term-lease of 30 years with two 30-year renewals, but it still requires a commission vote, explains attorney David Weinstein.

“The fact that it has taken four years shows how slow government moves,” Weinstein said.

What the charter amendment did not specify, he added, is that the city-owned house must also stay in that spot.

Thursday, some commissioners started kicking around different ideas, from turning it into a museum to turning the lot into a small park.

“We are a green space. We have a beautiful native garden,” said Dade Heritage Trust’s executive director Christine Rupp. “We take care of this asset for them, and I think they would be hard-pressed to find another tenant that cares like we do, because it is a great example of our mission of what historic preservation can mean to a community.”

This issue was deferred to January, so staff can do their homework. Until then, Dade Heritage Trust will be on a month-to-month lease.


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