An outdoor gym erected last month in Maurice A. Ferre Park by the city of Miami must be removed, a city board ruled Wednesday night, marking a victory for neighboring residents who have fought projects erasing green space in the downtown bayfront park.
The gym, installed at the behest of the Bayfront Park Management Trust and its chair, Miami commissioner Joe Carollo, is not included in the city’s master plan and should not have been approved, said members of the Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board, who voted 5-2 to reverse the planning department’s decision to grant permission for the gym and the pavement surrounding it.
Unless city commissioners overrule the board, the exercise equipment will have to be ripped out, a planning department official acknowledged.
“Here’s something that was thrown together without community input, and it’s a slap in the face to every resident in the city,” board member Adam Gersten said. “Look at South Pointe Park in Miami Beach, which was heavily master planned. Why can’t we have nice things like that in Miami? It’s never going to happen if we don’t do something about the changes occurring in Ferre Park.”
Board chair Chris Collins and vice chair Andy Parrish asked Miguel Ferro, interim director of the Trust that runs the downtown parks with Carollo’s oversight, how Trust members make decisions, such as the ones to build the gym, create the walkway lined with large dog and cat statues, chop down a 35-foot ficus tree and place Microtheater Miami’s shipping container performance spaces in the park.
Ferro said the unanimous vote to install the exercise equipment was made before he became interim director and he couldn’t say whom the Trust consults with or what process the Trust uses to determine what projects are undertaken.
“The residents don’t want this gym,” said board member Robert W. Rodriguez. “A group like the Downtown Neighbors Alliance serves as a watchdog for the area, and without them we would not have found out about this. You can’t let the government run willy-nilly over the wishes of the people who live there.”
Board member Paul Mann defended Carollo and said the gym was a good addition.
“I know Commissioner Carollo is a park lover. I don’t think he wants to ruin this one,” Mann said. “If we deny this gym we’d be saying we don’t want anything else.”
The board is an advisory board and its decision is a recommendation that city commissioners can accept or reject.
“We will ask the commission to reconsider,” Carollo said. “I’m surprised that an outdoor gym just like the gyms that exist in scores of our parks and in parks of every major American city would generate opposition. It’s because Joe Carollo is chair of the Trust and because a tiny group of maybe 15 elitists don’t want it; they have state-of-the-art gyms in their condos.
“But hundreds upon hundreds of people are going to use that equipment, which was approved in public meetings two years ago. We’ve received positive feedback from residents and visitors who look forward to exercising outside in a beautiful park that serves the whole city, not just the people who think they own it.”
LED billboards coming
Residents at the meeting said they worry about what’s coming next to Ferre Park. A soccer field is on the list of proposed capital improvements. A pickle ball court has been discussed. Two LED billboards, previously approved by the city, will be installed adjacent to the Biscayne Boulevard sidewalk at the north and south ends of the park.
“When the gym appeared all of a sudden, we filed an appeal and thought construction would stop,” said Brian Kern, vice president of the 900 Biscayne Bay condo board. “It never did.”
Downtown Neighbors Alliance President James Torres, who has complained to the Trust about unpermitted, sloppy and hazardous work in Ferre Park, said “people deserve a say in how their tax money is spent in our premier public park.” Torres suggests moving the gym to a Boys and Girls Club.
Tree removal angers parkgoers
The removal of an old shade tree in the park without advance notice or a permit provoked an outcry by park users.
“There’s been a complete disregard of city code, Miami 21, the master plan and Florida law,” said Steve Smith, president of the 900 Biscayne Bay condo board. “We are not opposed to all new development but it cannot be done in a vacuum. The idea that the Trust encourages public input is laughable.”
Michael Feuling, who lives across the street, has been battling Carollo since 2019, when security patrols in the park were cut. They were restored last year.
“This decision has repercussions beyond the gym because it forces the Trust to abide by the master plan,” Feuling said. “The biggest win we have today is community involvement. The people stood up and said Joe Carollo can no longer run the parks like a dictator.”