Item Coversheet

New Business and Commission Requests - R9  O


TO:Honorable Mayor and Members of the City Commission 
FROM:Alina T. Hudak, City Manager 
DATE:March  27, 2023



The Administration recommends that the City Commission discuss the item and schedule a public hearing pursuant to Section 82-504 of the City Code for the March 15, 2023 City Commission meeting.


On September 14, 2022, at the request of Commissioner Alex Fernandez, the City Commission referred the discussion item (C4 M) to the Public Safety and Neighborhood Quality of Life Committee (the “PSNQLC”)). On October 19, 2022, the discussion was deferred to the November 30, 2022 meeting.

At the November 30, 2022 PSNQLC meeting, this item was discussed and concluded, and sent to the City Commission for consideration. The Administration was directed to conduct outreach to the following organizations, and provide a recommendation to the City Commission on a location for the proposed historic marker in the Collins Park area:

1. Miami City Ballet
2. Bass Museum
3. Hispanic Affairs Committee
4. Collins Park Neighborhood Association

Desi Arnaz was born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha on March 2, 1917, in Santiago, Cuba. His father was a prominent physician, a wealthy landowner, and a popular senator. Batista's Cuban Revolution forced Desi and his father to flee to Miami (his mother would arrive later) where the penniless 17-year-old arrived unable to speak, read, or understand English. Remarkably, despite their reversal of fortune, neither he nor his father gave up hope. For Desi, that meant cleaning canary cages for 25 cents each, helping his dad lay tile in Miami Beach homes, and struggling to save money by sleeping on cots shoved in the back of a warehouse on SW Third Avenue. A family friend and fellow refugee helped Desi enroll at St. Patrick Catholic School. Over time, he improved his English, learned guitar and the conga drum, and assimilated into his adopted home.

In 1937, Arnaz met Bobby Kelly, son of entrepreneurial restaurateur 'Mother' Kelly, who was then opening a 200-seat nightclub as an addition to the Park Avenue Restaurant. Promising Kelly an orchestra, Desi was hired for a two-week engagement. At the nightclub's December 30, 1937 premiere, the 20-year-old had been so desperate for work he didn't reveal his orchestra was really just a handful of musicians who couldn't play the Latin rhythms Arnaz had promised. Remembering his childhood in Santiago where a hypnotic rhythm was played at city-wide parties that stretched from dusk to dawn, Arnaz quickly taught the musicians to play a cadence of 'One-two-three-KICK!' Arnaz beat his conga drum in time, shouted to the audience to follow him and above this primal rhythm he proceeded to dance everyone around the bar, out the door, around the block and back into the nightclub. What Arnaz called his 'Dance of Desperation' launched 'The Conga Craze' in America. Even more significantly, the ensuing publicity raised his profile and led him first to Broadway and then to Hollywood where he met the love of his life, Lucille Ball with the two becoming the proud parents of Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., and later to his own orchestra, the production and ownership of 'I Love Lucy', and the couples' purchase of RKO Studios.


The proposal to introduce a State of Florida Historical Marker was spearheaded by Gary McKechnie, a resident of Mount Dora, Florida. Mr. McKechnie learned of the incredible accomplishments of Desi Arnaz and submitted a nomination to the State of Florida for a historical marker honoring the entertainer. On May 24, 2022, the State of Florida Historical Marker Council met in Tallahassee and unanimously approved the nomination.

While the location of Mr. Arnaz’s performances was initially believed to be at the Park Central Hotel on Ocean Drive as referenced in Mr. Anaz’s memoir, A Book, by Desi Arnaz, after further research it has been concluded that the actual location of the nightclub was at 339 22nd Street (the former Park Avenue Restaurant), the current site of the Miami City Ballet. A copy of the original building permit card for 339 22nd Street and a Miami Herald advertisement for the La Conga nightclub are attached, for informational purposes.

Given the documentation identifying the intersection of Park Avenue and 22 Street as the site of La Conga nightclub, the most appropriate location for the marker would be somewhere in the Collins Park neighborhood near the Miami City Ballet building. The Administration has identified two possible areas for the installation of the plaque, as noted on the attached map, and summarized hereto:

Option One – Collins Park
Option one would be to introduce the marker within the green space at the northwest corner of Collins Park adjacent to the south side of 22 Street. This location is closest to the former La Conga nightclub and installation would not require the removal of any paved areas.

Option Two – Liberty Avenue Plaza
Option two is within the Liberty Avenue pedestrian plaza adjacent to the north side of 22 Street. This location will likely have a much higher volume of pedestrian activity, allowing for more public appreciation. However, it may require the removal or modification of paved areas.

The Administration’s preferred location is Option Two which will afford a greater public benefit. As the final location is subject to the approval of the State, the Administration would recommend the Commission also endorse Option One as an alternate location in the event the State does not approve the marker to be placed within the Liberty Avenue plaza.

Each marker will be made of cast aluminum with a black background and white lettering, as well as a white Florida Heritage emblem. The markers come with a 7’-0” concrete post and have a text area of 30” by 42”.

The verbiage previously approved by the State of Florida Historic Marker Council is as follows:

Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha was born into wealth and privilege in Santiago, Cuba. After the Cuban Revolution of 1933 forced his family to flee to Miami, the teenage refugee lived in a pest-ridden warehouse and earned spare change cleaning birdcages – not knowing he would one day transform American entertainment. A turning point came at the Park Avenue nightclub in 1937 when the young bandleader realized the Latin music he knew was foreign to his pickup band. Arnaz saved the show by beating out a tempo on his conga drum. When the band joined in, the mesmerized audience followed Arnaz as he danced them outside and through these streets. What Arnaz called his “Dance of Desperation” launched the “Conga Craze” in America. His endless talent and determination led him first to Broadway and then Hollywood where he met the love of his life, Lucille Ball. Married in 1940, they would have two children, create Desilu Productions, achieve stardom with I Love Lucy, and purchase RKO Studios. On a 1954 TV special honoring the couple, Arnaz reflected “From cleaning canary cages to this night... I don’t think there’s any other country in the world that can give you that opportunity. I want to say thank you. Thank you, America.”

The proposal also includes the above verbiage translated into Spanish for one side of the marker.

At the direction of the PSNQLC, the Administration has reached out to several organizations to obtain feedback regarding the location of the historical marker within the Collins Park neighborhood. Below is a summary of this outreach to date:

• Collins Park Neighborhood Association – The Association has been contacted and has no objection to the placement of the plaque within the Collins Park neighborhood at either Liberty Avenue Plaza or Collins Park.

• Miami City Ballet – The Miami City Ballet has advised the City that the collective opinion of the Ballet is consistent with the position of the Collins Park Neighborhood Association.

• Bass Museum – the Bass Museum has suggested not locating the marker within Collins Park, as the museum prefers to keep the area of the park as open as possible for the future placement of contemporary art.

• Hispanic Affairs Committee – The Committee discussed the placement of the marker at their January 12, 2023, meeting and passed a motion recommending in favor of placing the marker within the Collins Park Neighborhood. Further, the Committee recommends that the marker be placed within the Liberty Avenue pedestrian plaza as the first preference, subject to the final review of the State of Florida, with the second preference being the northwest corner of Collins Park. The Committee also recommended that text of the marker be refined to include a more site-specific reference.

The cost for the fabrication of the marker is approximately $2,400. While there has been a significant fundraising attempt by Mr. McKechnie, the Administration has been advised that the total amount raised is approximately $800, and that Mr. McKechnie would like to donate this amount. Should the City accept the donation, it is anticipated that the cost difference could be covered by funds allocated to the Planning Department for purpose of introducing historical markers throughout the City, which was approved by the City Commission per Resolution No. 2019-30921. The Administration has also confirmed with the Facilities and Fleet Department that the cost of installation will be nominal and not have any budget implications.

Pursuant to Section 82-504 of the City Code concerning monuments and memorials, the City Commission is required to hold a public hearing prior to final approval of the historical marker. The proposal for a commemorative plaque must be transmitted to the City Commission with an accompanying written analysis prepared by the City Administration.

At the close of the City Commission public hearing, the approval of the proposal requires a 5/7 vote. Unless expressly provided otherwise in the City Commission Resolution approving the historical marker, the approval shall establish the presumption that the City shall assume the costs associated with the ongoing maintenance of the approved marker.

Absent additional feedback to the contrary, at this point the Administration would recommend option two for the location of the proposed marker, within the Liberty Avenue pedestrian plaza.


Not Applicable


It is anticipated that fabrication of the plaque will cost the City approximately $1,600 after the $800 donation by Mr. McKechnie. Installation will be handled through the Facilities and Fleet Department. The fabrication and installation costs will not require a new funding appropriation.


The Administration recommends the following:

1. The City Commission approve Option Two as the preferred location for the proposed marker, within the Liberty Avenue pedestrian plaza and approve Option One as an alternate location in the event the State does not approve the Option Two location.

2. The City Commission schedule a public hearing pursuant to Section 82-504 of the City Code for the March 15, 2023, City Commission meeting, for the approval of the marker and installation authorization. (NOTE: approval by the City Commission will be subject to final approval from the State as to the proposed location).

Applicable Area

South Beach
Is this a "Residents Right to Know" item, pursuant to City Code Section 2-14? Does this item utilize G.O. Bond Funds?
Yes No 

Strategic Connection

Prosperity - Market and promote Miami Beach as a world class arts, culture, and quality entertainment destination.
Legislative Tracking
Commissioner Alex Fernandez

Location MAP
Building CARD
Miami Herald Ad - La Conga Club