“The path to paradise begins in hell,” wrote Italian poet Dante Alighieri in the “Divine Comedy.”
And so it has been for the 12,500-square-foot piece of land at the corner of Crandon Boulevard and McIntyre Street, the one-time Citgo gas station that manifested as a temporary dog park, adhoc green space, even a pump track and a symbol, to some, of costly indecision.
All that is in the past, as Paradise Park is set for a grand opening Wednesday evening. The construction fencing is down and the trees – though still propped up to allow them to root – are ready for residents to read a book– or their phones – under the fronds.
The Village aims for the park to be the heartbeat of Key Biscayne, a place where music, arts and events take place – a natural extension of the Community Center.
Village Manager Steve Williamson said Paradise Park is the final piece of the puzzle once envisioned by the founders of Key Biscayne.
“First we had the Fire Department, the Village Hall came second, the Community Center third and now we’ve got Paradise Park that kind of squares it off,” Williamson said. “We have this whole downtown area and that makes it really special.”
The gas station land was acquired around 2003 for $3 million. Williamson said the park in the end will cost about $2 million but the Village is still waiting for some invoices to come in from utility companies.
Of all its iterations, the most out of the box was the pump track in the summer of 2017. The looping, undulating bike track was embraced like a shiny brand new Christmas present by island kiddos only to be quickly tossed aside like yesterday’s wrapping paper.
The Village Council pared down a more expensive proposal for the park in 2019 but frustration was mounting. “I just want to get it done,” Councilmember Brett Moss, a proponent of the pump track, said at the time.
When work was to commence in December 2019, the groundbreaking was delayed because hundreds of tons of potentially contaminated soil needed to be removed.
That raised the price from the park’s budgeted $1.6 million.
“Obviously, the remediation of the former gas station was one of the items that was more challenging, and rather significant and time consuming so we can get to this point,” said Parks Director Todd Hofferberth.
But wait, there’s more.
First came the pandemic when the world basically stopped spinning. Then the curse, the jinx – whatever you want to call it – bit again last November.
Then came word the price to bury power lines was also costing twice as much as anticipated, about $150,000 in total. The park’s price then was nearly 20 percent more than allocated.
Hofferberth said the ungrounding isn’t totally complete yet but it will be well worth the pain.
“It’s getting close to the point where the poles will go away, but I think the aesthetics of that will be well worth the money spent,” he said.
The plan is to put electrical wires underground throughout the island and now the park won’t have to be torn up when that infrastructure upgrade occurs, he said.
Hofferberth has been through the whole saga of Paradise Park. He said the land proved pivotal as a construction staging site for building the community center. He takes a “good things comes to those who wait” approach when it comes to Paradise Park.
When asked how it feels to open a park, Hofferbeth said, “ecstatic.”
The park now has the electric output for concerts, plays and sports a path of historical markers. One reads: “1991 – Independence is declared! Voters take charge of their destiny…”
The plaques are based on the book “Key Biscayne: A History of Miami’s Tropical Island and the Cape Florida Lighthouse” by resident Joan Gill Blank.
The fall and winter festivals will carve out a space in the park, as well.
“So this is big in so many ways,” Williamson said. “From an environmental perspective, from a change perspective, but also kind of really capping off what I think the vision of the founders had in creating the civic center.”
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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV. You can reach him at [email protected]