Urban Oasis: City Approves Plans for Lincoln Park

Bruce Clinton has an issue with the Feds. After all, the longtime developer was once featured on 60 Minutes in a segment about his 15-year — and ultimately successful — battle with the federal government.

“I guess you can say I have a real chip on my shoulder when it comes to government agencies,” said the affable and earnest Clinton.

However, even Clinton was pleased when the Miami Beach City Commission recently approved plans for Lincoln Park, the $13 million park in the heart of Miami Beach designed by the landscape architecture firm West 8.

“When we got the unanimous vote, it was like a warm wind blew over me,” said Clinton, who is the chair of the NWS Park Committee and point man on the project. “We have worked so hard to make a good park.”

New World Symphony Park, better known as Lincoln Park, will sit adjacent to the Frank Gehry-designed new campus for the New World Symphony and also to a Gehry-designed 520-space parking garage with first-floor retail. (NWS is acting as developer of the garage for the city.) The park replaces a surface parking lot and will occupy 2.5 acres bordered by 17th Street and Lincoln Lane and by Washington Avenue and Drexel Avenue. Drexel will be closed to traffic between Lincoln Lane and 17th Street.

North America’s largest projection wall and state-of-the-art sound system will be the park’s signature elements.

The development of the park has overcome challenges, including budgets and the departure of Gehry from the project in a debate over city funding and perceived slights. Gehry was eventually replaced by Dutch firm West 8 and Adriaan Geuze, lead designer of the project and company founder.

The transition of architects was just one of the hurdles Clinton faced in leading the project. Initially a selection committee tasked with rating potential architects based on a Request for Qualifications was second-guessed by the city, prompting Clinton to resign from the project. Eventually, however, Clinton said, City Hall reversed itself and he returned.

“Friends had asked me in the first place why — given my feelings about government in general — I took this on,” Clinton said. “I couldn’t have started this any deeper in the end zone. I was not a fan of Gehry. I did not think that symphony needed a new home at the time. But I took on the chairmanship because I was the trustee with the most experience in developing parks. I ran into that pothole six months ago, but eventually the city did the right thing and the trustees prevailed upon me to come back.”

Now, Clinton is glad he did.

“I have found that doing this is one of the most enriching things,” he said. “It’s being awash in the human experience. I have developed a sense of respect for so many people at the city and for the City Commission. They have been terrific. That’s not something people are used to hearing about in city government.”

The park product is as much or more the reason for Clinton’s enthusiasm as the process.

Lincoln Park is planned to have several iconic elements. Among those are three groups of pergolas that have been custom designed to provide the park with a signature look. Most impressive, though, is a projection wall of just under 10,000 square feet congruent with the NWS building on which park visitors will be able to watch concerts, films and other digital media. A state-of-the-art sound system will accompany the projection wall.

“We’re told that it is the largest wall of its kind in North America and possibly in the world,” Clinton said. “It’s the most advanced projection system there is, with sound of similar quality. The wall is the ultimate signature element. We have had one test of the system and it took our breath away.”

The park is planned for passive use by day with numerous and diverse audio-visual features by night. Design-wise, it is being integrated into the features of the two Gehry- designed components to create a signature location on Miami Beach.

“Miami Beach is a city whose culture and lifestyle demand a euphoric design: perfectly international in spirit, playing off of the climate, and serving as a tribute to the architecture,” Geuze said.

Clinton said both he and city, to date, have cooperated in not intervening with a heavy hand on the designer’s vision.

“A problem with this kind of project is that when you have a small space and everyone starts adding elements to it, instead of succeeding in a cohesive vision, you end up with a hodge-podge,” he said.

Some elements of the park have yet to be entirely resolved. Some have advocated for a water element, for example. At the time none is included. Clinton was among the advocates for one, but did not want to pressure it into Geuze’s design and instead supported the designer’s vision.

“I’ll run the infrastructure for it in case the city decides to do something later with a water feature,” Clinton said.

Among others pleased with the recent progress of the park’s development is NWS Board Chair and former Miami Beach Mayor Neisen Kasdin.

“I am very pleased the City Commission strongly supported the brilliant park design by Adriaan Geuze and expediting the completion of the park project,” Kasdin said. “Each component, the symphony’s new campus and the park, will be unique, and in combination, it will be a creation never before seen in the world.”

Clinton is pushing for an early deadline on the park project. Initially handed a schedule that called for completion toward the end of 2012, he instead is aiming for substantial completion by January 2011. Plans must still be approved by the Design Review Board and then ultimately survive commission muster again this summer.

“[The city] is very motivated to get it done,” Clinton said.

About Michael W Sasser

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