Friday, August 15, 2003

George Mindling Column 8-15-2003


Mutually Exclusive


A recent article in the Sun about the new home for the Parrot Jungle in Miami bears an uncanny resemblance to what may happen in Punta Gorda with the current Charlotte County Auditorium. The property may be lost to the public if the Charlotte County commissioners follow in the footsteps of the city of Miami.

The old tourist venues that were an integral part of Florida's allure as a tourist destination are fading by the wayside. Our nearby Cypress Gardens is currently struggling to see if it can arise from the ashes of financial losses, but may fall by the wayside as did Miami's Rare Bird Garden, the Musa Isle Indian Village and many, many more. Of Miami's remaining attractions, only the Parrot Jungle, with city and county assistance of course was able to negotiate a leap to the 21st century.

The old location of the Parrot Jungle in South Miami on Red Road, was becoming an increasingly upscale residential neighborhood. The Parrot Jungle traded locations with the city of Miami for a prime location on Watson Island. The new location, directly across from where the cruise ships dock on Dodge Island. was called "a really barren island" by Ben Levine, a veterinarian and one of the owners of the Parrot Jungle.

I disagree. My daughter learned to sail there, as did many other kids since the inception of the Miami Yacht Club in 1927. We sat many times under the beautiful yellow Tabebuia trees on the weekends with many other families playing next to the old Japanese Gardens.

The public boat ramps between the working class MYC and the Miami Outboard Club were always filled with regular people who couldn't afford to live on Hibiscus or Star Islands, not far from the ramp, but who enjoyed the waters of Biscayne Bay. The "really barren island" is divided by the six-lane MacArthur Causeway, where countless sightseers still park next to Government Cut to watch the cruise ships.

We knew developers had their eyes on the marvelous piece of property when the city of Miami forced the Goodyear blimp off the island. The "dangerous" blimp base immediately became a helicopter landing area. When the state of Florida deeded the spoil island to the city of Miami. in the 1980s, the city, under mayor Maurice Ferre immediately went after the remaining occupants of the island.

Miami wanted a grandiose theme and amusement park to rival Disneyland. Deed restrictions on the grant for the Japanese Garden and opposition from MYC and MOC stopped that deal. but the loss was only temporarily delayed.

Today, the huge brown monstrosity that is the Parrot Jungle parking garage all but blocks the sun from little MYC. The island once famous for Chalk's Airlines and the Goodyear blimp has added a $47 million attraction that will soon prove whether or not the city of Miami acted in the good faith of its citizens. Whatever happens, the property will never return to the citizens who played in the beautiful park that once was.

George Mindling © 2003

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