By Adam Schachner
Eyes are on Downtown Miami, with its transforming skyline and latest development boom. Many people see many forward-thinking and globally-motivated potentials. Then there's the Macias brothers, Alex and Marcos of Macias Advertising (macisascreative.com). Amidst a scramble for footholds on downtown's cultural scene Team Macias saw beyond by looking back- all the way back- to their youth in Miami. From his balcony facing Bayfront Park, Alex Macias pondered Miami's roundest fountain and realized what downtown is missing: a roller rink.
“Bayskate was a solution to a problem,” Alex reflects upon March's breakout conversion of Bayfront Park into a roller rink. The Macias Brothers utilized Miami Foundation grant money for the Public Spaces Challenge to deliver an evening of rollerskating around the fountain. “Downtown is instrumental in the city's growth. I've raised my family here; the park is my daughter's back yard. And it is really underutilized.”
There are exceptions to Bayfront's general public space usage, such as Christmas Tree Lightings, varied health and pet fairs, corporate runs, and Ultra Music Festival. Although nice occasions, they are also geographically interchangeable concepts. A marathon can be held anywhere. A music festival like Ultra is dropped on the park, not integrated into its character. Dancers will dance wherever the music is played.
Looking down from the 32nd floor, Macias saw a space bringing back fond memories of Miami-past. “I had an arial view of the fountain,” he contemplates, “which reminded me of growing up. My brother and friends would skate on Monday nights. That was a place to meet and a cultural center in the Miami landscape. The fountain’s big circle always reminded me of that time.”
The call-back to weekends at Hot Wheels in Kendall is a beautiful reflection on the broad but distinct “Miami Style”. Architecture simultaneously streamlined in aquamarine and preserved in Art Deco, Miami evolves as the city where the 80's never ended. Millenials and Gen-Xers alike may recall any number of camp trips, birthday parties, or simple Saturday getaways to roll. Even if the skating wasn't the draw, there were the churros and horribly acceptable rink pizza. The roller rink is our childhood's ideal “Third Space”: not home, not school, but a communal place to socialize and engage (or not) in diverse activities.
The Macias' Bayskate project begs the question: What does it take to activate our underutilized parks as Third Spaces?
“The Miami Foundation opened up this idea of converting an existing resource into an experience for the city and community,” Macias explains. “We tied our experience growing up to the idea that this park was relatively inactive for anything other than private events or Ultra. It needs to be a place where people can go with their family and enjoy a special resource without shelling out for a ticket. That’s a park and is a part of what downtown can be.”
The Miami Foundation's yearly Public Space Challenge is designed on the principle that community spaces are at the people's disposal. The Challenge gives locals the chance to pitch their vision for redefining an inert location into a local draw. Whether propositions involve beautification or commerce, one-time events or installations, grant monies are rewarded to the projects which generate the greatest buzz over open-source proposals hosted on the Miami Foundation's website. Applicants pin their ideas to an interactive map of Miami, site visitors comment and vote their support, and the traction brings the city's changes.
The fuel for this effort's efficacy, however, is participation. Activation takes sponsorship, sweat equity, and the efforts of volunteers and partakers- contributions that are often the hardest to solicit from Miami audiences.
“We are lucky to own an advertising agency,” says Macias, “because it helped to understand the production value. We ask people to help us put together a skating experience in the park, but it was really hard for people to hear that and expect that the result was what Bayskate wound up being. They were overwhelmed.”
While the Bayskate grant brought in $10,000 from The Public Space Challenge, Macias cites on overall bill five times that amount to pull of the launch event. The results were compelling: high turnouts, public engagement, and happy skaters. From kids taking their first struts, to couples dusting off their coordinated outfits and moves for the first time since the 70's, this was the intended delivery: everyone's event.
According to Macias, Bayfront Park dug it. They have 15 Friday nights slated- one per month- hopefully kicking off in June. The will and the want is there, but it will take money and communal help to keep it rolling.
Maybe future iterations won't require the same scope or require the same budget, but to compensate for cost cuts Bay Skate will need organizational contributions-- and that's not just the bucks. Macias gets that, even after seeing the ambition pay off once: “You are counting on a lot of moving parts that are out of your control. Whether Bay Skate or other, be patient-- you have to expect that. Whether its the park or the permits, weather or volunteers, police and security or getting power to the right location because the facilities are limited… With every deliverable asset you are creating, there will be something tied to it that is somewhat reliant on another piece being put together.”
That kind of coordination is not just a matter of funding and permitting. An event that serves our community, especially free-of-charge, takes the community to make it work. The love of Bay Skate was unquestionable-- it was a refreshing new use for city that keeps it real. Whether you were there to see it or are stoked to roll out to the next one, like all excellent community initiatives it will require your help to keep it going. Step up and skate on!
Note: Images taken from Bay Skate Miami Facebook Page