Deal for purchase expected to be completed today

by Don Finebrock, Miami Herald

      With time running out to save the Miami Circle, the Miami-Dade
Commission agreed Monday to borrow $8.7 million to buy the riverfront
property and preserve the ancient stone carvings discovered there last year.
      Barring any last-minute glitches, the county expects to complete the
$26.7 million deal today with the property's owner, developer Michael Baumann.
      Title for the 2.2-acre property at the mouth of the Miami River will be
transferred to the state of Florida, which is contributing $15 million toward
the purchase price.  The county is contributing $3 million from its Safe
Neighborhood Parks bond program.
      The rest of the money will come from the Trust for Public Land, a
national land conservation organization based in San Francisco.
      The trust agreed two weeks ago to lend the county $8.7 million so it
could buy out Baumann.  The county had until today to buy the property or
make a down payment of $20 million to preserve the carvings.
      Experts believe the Circle was carved about 2,000 years ago by Tequsta
Indians who lived in South Florida.
      Seven commissioners -- the minimum needed for a meeting -- voted
unanimously to accept the trust's offer, despite concerns about the extra
cost and the potential liability.
      The loan, at 8.5 percent interest, could add $1.5 million to the final
cost of the deal, county officials told commissioners.
      The agreement also puts the county in an uncomfortable spot.  The
county must now raise $8.7 million, or repay the loan itself.  The first $2
million is due in one year.  The remainder is due in two years.
      "In effect, we are going on the hook for $8.7 million," Miami-Dade
Mayor Alex Penelas said.
      But commissioners had little choice.
      If the county had walked away from the deal it cut two months ago with
Baumann, the developer could have sued the county to recover legal fees and
other costs associated with the delay of his proposed high-rise project.
      After reviewing the county's options, Commissioner Miriam Alonso said
she felt as if she had a knife in front of her and a knife behind.  Whichever
way she moved would be painful, she said.

      "It is a very painful experience that I have right now," Alonso said.

      As the deadline neared, Baumann had offered to lend the county the full
$8.7 million himself -- but at 12 percent interest.
      Penelas and county officials pitched the trust proposal as the best

      "What this is doing is buying us time," said George Burgess, special
assistant to County Manager Merrett Stierheim.
      Penelas and Burgess said the county's fund-raising effors should bear
fruit shortly, County officials are seeking contributions from the Jay I.
Kislak Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Kresge
      Penelas said the Kislak Foundation has agreed in principle to provide
$2 million for the land.  The foundation previously had express interest in
funding a Circle museum.
      County officials have applied for $1 million in federal transportation
money from the local Metropolitan Planning Organization and they are
exploring the possibility of tapping federal funds for land consevation.
      "Although we do not have hard commitments from any of these effors, all
indications are we will be getting some very good news from several of these
sources within the next several weeks." Penelas said.


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