Children check out the statue of a Dalmatian at the Dogs and Cats Walkway and Sculpture Gardens in Miami.

Little ones verify out the statue of a Dalmatian at the Dogs and Cats Walkway and Sculpture Gardens in Miami.

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Calle Ocho has painted roosters. Coconut Grove has peacocks. Miami Dade College has its robot bull. Now downtown Miami has a whole walkway of decorated cats and dogs.

Local elected officials, the Bayfront Park Management Trust and artists officially opened the Dogs and Cats Walkway and Sculpture Gardens, a path of painted cat and dog sculptures in Maurice A. Ferré Park right next to the Pérez Art Museum Miami, on Friday afternoon. The free and permanent sculpture exhibition had a “soft opening” in December during Art Basel.

The walkway, a controversial passion project of Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo, cost the city $896,000.

More than 50 local artists painted 57 sculptures of different cat and dog breeds that each represent a Miami neighborhood or community. Dickson, the Little Haiti cat, has a painting of a rural Haitian town on its side. An abstract Overtown street kitten makes friends with the Wynwood orange tabby. And then there’s Tabaco, a Basset Hound wearing a turquoise button-down shirt and cargo shorts with cigars poking out of the back pocket.

Sculptures of cats at the Canine and Cats Walkway and Sculpture Gardens. The City of Miami hosted a ribbon-reducing ceremony for the Dogs & Cats Walkway and Sculpture Gardens at Maurice A. Ferré Park, 1075 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023. Jose A. Iglesias [email protected]

“I was amazed by just how much of that talent we have in Miami,” Carollo, the Bayfront Park Management Trust chair, said during the press conference.

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday, the elected officials unveiled the walkway’s largest statue, a massive Labrador named Chócolo painted with butterflies and flowers surrounded by smaller puppies and kittens. The artist, Luis Miguel Rodriguez, said he was inspired by the joy his family’s dog brought his children.

“Children and pets are things that create the most love in the world,” Rodriguez said.

With the statue of a Labrador Retriever termed Chócolo by regional artist Luis Miguel Rodriguez looming in the history, Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo, middle, talks to guests at the ribbon-chopping ceremony for the Canines and Cats Walkway and Sculpture Gardens. Jose A. Iglesias [email protected]

Elected officials at the grand opening praised Carollo’s efforts to beautify the park and attract tourists with the artwork. Before the art installation, that part of the park was an unkempt eyesore, City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said. As Miami gains fame as a global arts destination, Suarez said the pet-themed sculpture park has “increased the image of the city.”

“What you have done here today, commissioner, is an act of pure goodness,” Suarez said to Carollo. Hopefully, Suarez said, the commission will soon dedicate $5 million to restore the park’s fountain.

City Commission Chair Christine King, a dog lover who has a mini-poodle named Cinnamon, said she was thrilled to see the artwork.

“When the city and the county are able to come together, it can only mean wonderful things to our community, such as this space and other spaces to come, like Virginia Key Beach Park,” King said.

But among the thank yous and congratulations, the mayor and commissioners also took time to reference the sculpture garden’s controversial history and criticize the “haters” who objected to Carollo’s vision.

Carollo credited his wife, Marjorie, with the idea for the sculpture garden. She had heard about a series of cat sculptures along the river walk in Cali, Colombia, and the couple decided that Ferré Park would be the perfect place for Miami’s version. During the press conference, Carollo said his wife found the company who could create the statues. Carollo was heavily involved in the process, he said. He picked out the flowers himself.

In 2021, the project drew scrutiny after it was quickly approved with little discussion or competitive bidding. Former Bayfront Park Management Trust board member Cristina Palomo resigned in protest after the board voted yes to a $896,000 contract with local foundry Art and Sculpture Unlimited Inc. to design, cast and install the statues without any debate or negotiation on price.

Two males walk earlier the statue of a Poodle at the Puppies and Cats Walkway and Sculpture Gardens at Maurice A. Ferré Park. Jose A. Iglesias [email protected]

“You always have a few haters,” Carollo said. “They try to make this [seem] like it was the end of the world, that what we were doing was the original, mortal sin. And just because I mentioned that my wife brought the idea.”

Other elected officials chimed in.

“And to see what this space has transformed into, if anybody says anything negative about this, how dare you?” said County Commissioner Keon Hardemon. “To me, today, Commissioner Carollo gave all of us in Miami City our flowers.”

While walking his dog through the park, Miami resident Michael Feuling had nothing nice to say.

Feuling, who lives across the street from the park and uses it daily, said he and other residents are concerned about “lack of maintenance of the park,” like broken sprinklers, old trash cans and poor landscaping. The cat and dog sculptures are for tourists, not residents, he said.

“I think for $896,000, Joe should be concentrating on other parts of the park,” Feuling said, pointing to a rusted trash can.

This story was produced with financial support from The Pérez Family Foundation, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The Miami Herald maintains full editorial control of this work.

This story was at first revealed February 10, 2023, 8:02 PM.

By Indana