Experience Heritage Park

By Susan Simpson….
Come take a walk with me through the City’s newest park, Heritage Park. This 4 acre park, although still new having only opened in June 2011, already tells a magnificent story. It starts with the City Commission making a commitment to have a park within safe walking distance for every resident of Sunny Isles Beach that would provide opportunities to play, relax, socialize, meditate, exercise and run around. Our parks play a very important role in the lives, the health and the wellbeing of our residents which in turn will continue to increase property values and make Sunny Isles Beach more than a resort. It is now a premiere destination in which to live in.

Heritage Park, once zoned for a multistory unit, was purchased by the City in 2006 with a requirement to provide parking for the Ramada Marco Polo Beach Resort for a monthly operating fee. It was the vision of our City leaders to convert the strip of unattractive asphalt into a beautiful, green park; a place for the numerous residents in adjacent buildings to gather and at the same time create a landmark entrance way into the city. To do so however required a portion of the land to become a parking garage, thereby losing an acre for that sole purpose. Due to the foresight and generosity of the majority owner of Ocean Reserve, Mr. Joseph Cacciatore, the City was granted an easement for an additional acre of their land to give Heritage Park its original 4 acres of park plus one acre of a parking garage.

Shortly thereafter the City vigorously pursued the planning and designing of the park with several public meetings slated solely to discuss the design and amenities that would one day become Heritage Park. And the result is a brilliant combination of challenging play space for children including a water play area; a vigorous walking path for the casual and experienced exerciser; a peaceful, meditative sitting area near the Memorial Wall; a stylish stage for outdoor performances; a great lawn for basking in the sun or playing a game of tag; a basketball court for a pick-up game with friends; a dog park where your licensed pet can romp around freely; and all of the accoutrements to support it including a parking garage and restrooms.

So let’s take that walk. Entering from the grand entrance at the corner of A1A (Collins Avenue) and 192 Street we see what southbound traveler’s first see as they enter Sunny Isles Beach. It is inspiring. The brightly colored landscaping against the understated wall catches your eye and as you approach, the fountain beckons you to go in and see more, and so we do. From here we take in the magnitude of the full four acres as we gaze across the great lawn and enjoy the light trickling of the fountain on the inside. Take a break while we have a seat on the bench here and recognize those Sunny Isles Beach residents that have served our country on the American Veteran’s Wall and served our City in the capacity of an elected official on the Honorable Commission Wall. Former Commissioner Gerry Goodman finds this to be his favorite spot in the park. At the dedication ceremony he said: “It is important that we recognize and remember our veteran’s. It is an honor to have served both my country and my city and I am proud to be listed on this wall. I encourage all our residents who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces to register to get their name on this wall.” More names will be unveiled at the City’s Veteran’s Day Celebration on November 11, 2011 at 10:00 a.m. The deadline for names for this event is 9/1/11. Contact the City for more information on this program.

Now that we are rested, let’s get moving again. We will walk up the north side of the path and as we approach the stage area we appreciate the creative landscaping. Using a variety of trees and plant material to compliment the royalty of the medjool palms, this pathway is adequately buffered from the entrance road just on the other side. About halfway up the path we look towards our left and notice the parking garage. With its artistic ‘shadow palms’ you don’t feel overwhelmed by the 5-story edifice but rather appreciative of its unassuming quality. It is functional and necessary but also blends in easily into the ambience of the park.

Further along we reach the stage and are surprised by its size. The dimensions of the stage are more than adequate to comfortably host large group performances. Mayor Norman Edelcup is most delighted with how the stage is set to serve the park, “We look forward to many wonderful concerts and cultural performances on this stage including our signature annual event, the Sunny Isles Beach Jazz Fest every October.” He goes on to say, “A variety of performances are scheduled for the upcoming year that will appeal to everyone from well known national artists to local amateur groups. This stage gives us an opportunity to have more events with less operational costs which benefits all of our residents.” We can envision those grand events our mayor speaks of but for now we see a budding actress as she hops along the stage with her mom in their own little performance with only us as their audience.

As we move around the oval walking path we arrive at the most populated area of the park, the pavilion and water play area. “This was a must have for me,” said Commissioner Bud Scholl, “We are in South Florida where we can play in the water nearly 12 months out of the year. This is going to be the most popular amenity for our residents”. And he is correct. Children flock to the fountains. They never want the fun to end. And referring to those few days that are too cold to get wet? Scholl says of the splash fountains, “And they look good too!” The ‘dancing’ water has color changing lights that create an eyecatching, entertaining attraction that you can enjoy even while you stay dry.

So while we enjoy the lights and water and squeals of surprise and joy as the children play in the fountains we notice more laughs coming from the playgrounds that are just adjacent to the pavilion. These unconventional looking play areas are more than play. The Evos and Weevos play structures are designed to let children flex their mental and physical muscles where their creative play will also build upper body and core strength. Here we can take a little break and sit on the seat wall that surrounds the play area and runs along the south side of the park. Here we feel the ocean breeze as it flows through the park and keeps the temperature tropically comfortable as a couple of gentlemen are engaged in a challenging game of chess at the chess/checkers table under the pavilion. The other tables are occupied by families who brought sandwiches to the park and enjoy a light meal while their children dart back and forth between the playground and the interactive water feature.

Our break is over and now we will head into the parking garage to use the restroom before moving on. As we pass the playground, we notice the Lee Liebman park bench. Lee was a vibrant resident of the City who was very involved in its incorporation and success in the early years by being an advocate for the north end of the City. Unfortunately Lee passed away before Heritage Park could open but her bench was dedicated to her in May 2009 and as was promised to her that day, her bench has been placed at this most convenient entrance. Lee would have loved to have sat there and watched the children play. New benches are available for dedication. If you are interested in dedicating a bench, you can contact the City for more information about this program.

From the restrooms we stroll through the parking garage to see where the bike racks make it convenient for bike riders to park and lock their bike in the safety of the parking garage. Although car parking is metered at $2 per hour, bicycle parking is free. We head to the west side of the parking garage where a path leads us along the dog park where a resident is playing catch with his dog. As we continue on this path we are passed by a jogger who is using the outside path, the 1/4 mile path, for a healthy workout. We however will make a right and go further west to the basketball courts. Vice Mayor Lew Thaler called this right, “We need to give our residents a safe place to play basketball where they are not playing in the streets as I see when I drive through Golden Shores.” With his suggestion, the City used a section of the parking area under the William Lehman Causeway to make a basketball court. This court was popular immediately as word spread that it was open. Today we come across a group of 4 men at one end and a group of 6 young children at the other. While we are there, 4 of the boys head out and follow the path to the south. We follow along as they use the passage from the basketball court to the Golden Shores Park to get home for dinner. We are relieved that they can get home without crossing the William Lehman Causeway or Collins Avenue. It reminds us of the importance of the time the City spent to design and construct this park so that every feature would tie together and flow so that all residents will find the Heritage Park experience a most pleasurable one.

Come and experience Heritage Park for yourself. It is located at 19200 Collins Avenue. As the final touches are being completed by the contractor, the temporary hours are Monday – Friday, 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. When the park is fully completed, an announcement will be made of the regular operating hours. Please be sure to check the website, www.sibfl.net or sign-up for our e-mail alerts through our eSIBi program (found on our website) that will provide you with immediate e-mail notification of park updates.

As always when using our City parks, we appreciate your cooperation with our park rules including; no glass containers, no vending or soliciting, no bicycles, no skateboards, no roller blades, no scooters, no alcoholic beverages, and no rough or injurious activity. Please call the Cultural and Human Services Department at 305.792.1706 if you have any questions or would like any more information about our City parks or programs.

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