From Skybox to Stateroom: Background to the American Airlines Arena (1996)

From Skybox to Stateroom:
The Power Behind the Construction of Miami’s American Airlines Arena

By Gregory W. Bush

I. Introduction

In 1987, with great press coverage – or fanfare – Miami was granted a franchise for a basketball team owned by showman Zev Bufman, cruise line magnate Ted Arison and basketball star Billy Cunningham. To showcase the team a new Arena was rapidly constructed. The Heat and its Arena were hailed as harbingers of a revitalized downtown, bringing jobs and attention to the largely black Overtown area that had been so devastated when I-95 cut through its heart in the early 1960s. When the $52.5 million Arena opened in 1988, the Miami Herald gushed over the future for job opportunities. (1)
Miami seemed to be coming of age – again- as one of Americas pre-eminent year-long sports and tourist capitals. It was trying to turn around its sordid reputation, formed in the early 1980s as drugs, riots and threatening waves of immigration from Cuba and Haiti associated it with crime, violence and disorder. By the late 1980s, nearby South Beach was beginning to be touted as a nouveau chic area for youthful fashion and upscale advertising trends. “Miami Vice” showcased the regions exotic postmodern architecture while an array of celebrities came to live in the area, from Julio Iglesias, Madonna and Sylvester Stalone, to Gianni Versace.
Bayfront Park in downtown Miami, originally constructed in the mid 1920s as a public place, had become largely moribund by the 1970s- even though Don Johnson was pictured on TV’s “Miami Vice” living there on his sailboat with his pet alligator. The bandstand had been torn down in 1981, replaced by the sleek gargantuan Hotel Intercontinental. It peered down on Bayside, a Rouse Company’s copy of its waterfront retail outlets in Baltimore and Annapolis, as well as on Imagu Nagouchi’s imposing -even if unfunctional and inappropriate- fountain in honor of the late Senator Claude Pepper and his wife Mildred.
Out in the bay on Dodge Island, connected by a bridge, was the Port of Miami, the largest cruise ship port in the world. It was presided over by Director, Carmen Lunetta, one of the most powerful people in South Florida who dispensed port funds to favored political candidates and their causes, while remaining largely unaccountable to public agencies or press scrutiny. Watson Island was derelict, including the abandoned Japanese Gardens, Chalks Airlines, some local businesses on the waterfront, and a favored boat club. (2)
In early 1996, Ted Arison’s son Mickey, whose Carnival Cruise Lines was Lunetta’s biggest customer, threatened to move his newly consolidated basketball team, the Heat, to nearby Broward County. He would remain in downtown Miami if granted public funds to underwrite a state of the art sports arena on the last remaining “public” land on the bay – even though Miami’s old arena was only eight years and still being paid off. Arison demanded that the new Arena be placed on the 32 acre FEC tract, in front of the Freedom Tower, north of Bayside and south of Bicentennial Park and the I-395 flyover that sped people from the airport to Miami Beach. He refused to consider building his sports palace across Biscayne Boulevard in vacant land but wanted it to become Miami’s signature building, placed next to the docks where clients would disembark from their staterooms and flow into the Arena and associated retail operations. Lunetta was also seeking downtown waterfront space to dock additional megaships and build retail operations to help fund port operations. So an alliance was forged.
The old Arena, like so much else in modern Miami, had not been built to last. Construction funds had been drastically cut back by local officials. Revenue hadn’t been sufficient for the Heat owners. Suburban patrons were often put off about coming to the downtown location at night; many games lacked audiences. The Arena’s design was more of an “urban fortress” as the Miami Herald finally admitted in late 1996. It was set near Miami’s downtown concrete canyon of high office towers, within the Overtown area that was a major destination for homeless people and an area with alarming poverty rates, that had earlier been so decimated by a highway that had cut through the heart of the African-American community. Miami’s downtown was devoid of any coherent plan of revitalization or political leadership strong enough to attract major investors. Few people lived there. And political corruption had gotten so rampant that a referendum would soon take place to abolish the city as a governmental unit.(3)
The 1996 controversy over building a new Arena for the Heat was the backdrop for what some saw to be the final passing of an older era of “passive parks” one associates with such genteel victorians as New York’s Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted or Miami’s original designers of Bayfront Park. The corporate chiefs and editors of the Miami Herald, located just north of I-395 were strongly in favor of the new Arena project, linked to a nearby Performing Arts Center whose proponents had also wanted a facility on the bay. Most of the male dominated business establishment favored the Heat’s position. The Herald had a sizable financial interest in surrounding acres next to the parkland. Internationally renowned planner Alex Cooper was designing a plan that amalgamated the new Arena and the port into the waterfront area. Little opposition had surfaced to either Lunetta or Arison’s planned use of the “vacant” land.(4)
Yet two major political stumbling blocks remained. One involved the fact that a 1972 Parks for People Bond Issue had been passed by Dade voters to fund public parks. In subsequent court suits, the city sought to exercise its power of eminent domain to wrest control of the FEC tract in order to create a public park. In 1979, the Court of Appeals finally ruled that the city had “eminent domain right to condemn railroad property located within municipal limits for the purpose of establishing a public park.” Though the city finally paid $23 million for the property, no park was ever developed. It remained, as one writer noted, “a concrete slab more closely resembling a tipped-over gravestone than a public park.” In 1996, powerful downtown lawyer Dan Paul, a leader of earlier fights for parkland, threatened to gather signatures for a referendum against the Arena project. Another problem facing Arena advocates in 1996 came from the politicization of the issue by a major contender for the newly created “strong” Mayor position in Dade County, Alex Penelas, who vehemently opposed the Arena deal as a waste of taxpayer funds. (4a)
Thus, the controversy over the Arena-Port deal, was only part of a tangled web of political and economic developments taking place that year. Corruption and budget scandals had become a major embarrassment – even for Miami. The devaluation of public parkland, the cynicism of Miami’s citizens to be able to effect meaningful change, and the growing power of the sports and entertainment industry all produced a defining moment in the life of South Florida.
This chapter will examine issues involved in this controversy. I am neither a sports historian nor primarily an urban historian but became convinced of the need to place these events in better perspective because of what I saw happening around me. The changing organization of spectacle in the 1980s and 1990s, and conclude by describing those opposed to Miami’s Arena-Port deal, several reasons behind their or our ineffectiveness especially as it relates to local news coverage. As I hope to underscore, Miami exhibits the growing dominion of the leisure industry over politics and spokesmanship impacting on evolving notions of the private use of public space. Fueled by sophisticated marketing techniques that blend modern notions of fun and community consensus, the sports industry has become a central focus of the local press and a major force in urban design.
Yet the initiative to redesign and promote the downtown waterfront has involved a bewildering set of promotional, financial and design issues; it has become the province of “experts” using specialized language that intimidates voters from getting involved. The inability of public groups to organize and create alternative visions for parks and other public spaces in the 1990s remained a daunting challenge.
As the value of cultural tourism rises, themed cities under the control of consortiums of private investors, are asserting new modes of attention engineering with which we should become more familiar – even at the risk of being so close to the material one analyzes. Sharon Zukin has written that Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Miami have shown the way to an economic development strategy based on the “sale and consumption of pleasure” (Mullins 1991, 331), the location of objects in space by a singular, coherent vision.” The example of Miami also undercores the contention of Michael Sorkin and Susan Davis that “as cities restructure themselves along touristic principals, the theme park extends outward, undermining older city forms and recasting urban areas as “variations on a theme park.” Public meeting spaces become subsumed under private controls. Debate grows dimmer. (5)

Background: Sports

Exotic Attractions and Organized Sports, 1930-1996
Part of the lure of Miami by the 1910s was its attraction as a winter sports capital. People came for the winter sun, the beaches as well as the nightlife, the availability of romance and entertainment.
Carl Fisher sponsored boat races on the bay, polo grounds for the rich, and fishing retreat at Cocolobo in Biscayne Bay.
Early baseball teams developed winter training grounds in the area as early as xxx [Ray Mohl …]
Racetracks in Fulford by the Sea, later at Tropical Park, horse racing at
Rhoddey Burdine helped create the Orange Bowl in the mid 1930s as a successful attraction, along with the national attention on the Orange Bowl parade.
Miami Hurricanes and Miami Dolphins
Other attractions: Parrott Jungle, Monkey Jungle, Tropical
The waterfront, however,
More recently, however, the Miami area reflected the growing power of professional sports within the culture of celebrity, corporate sponsorship and television. “Addicted to Sports Not Drugs,” is a prominent motto propounded by the PAL bumper sticker today, epitomizing a prevalent approach to community problems in South Florida. (13)
Being associated with a winning sports team had, of course, long been a powerful political and economic force in cities across the nation. The economics of contemporary sports arenas, however, reflect a host of more novel, complex and interrelated factors: the cost of television rights, pay scales for atheletes, sponsor tie ins, naming rights, parking and retail concessions, and upscale seating. It is a subject covered in some detail in Major League Losers, recently published by Mark Rosenstraub and other accounts. (13b)
The prototype for this development was Judge Roy Hofheinz’s Houston Astrodome, built in the 1960s, and largely paid for with Municipal bonds. The judge also built 53 luxury boxes with $ 2 million of his own money. “It was done,” his son Fred noted in a 1994 article, “to attract people who used baseball games as a backdrop to sell their products…You can wander around your box with a drink in your hand and sell some guy some insurance. And I promise you,” he added, “there are people all over sports now who never look at the sports event. The whole time they’re selling.” It was created, in fact, after the Judge had visited the Coliseum in Rome. By the 1980s, luxury skyboxes were becoming windowed zones of status provding profits for operators. (14)
Building stadiums also became an index of being a successful local visionary, a modern Horatio Alger, an updated Bruce Barton. The 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” starring Kevin Costner, repeated the mythic lure of professional sports, redeeming past sins through the mantra “If you build it, he will come.” But the price for the average fan had gone up, with the Heat changing the highest prices in the league by 1997. The public could only hope to come. (14b)
Loopholes in the 1986 Tax Reform law have helped attract promoters to use public money in building new stadiums forcing cities to compete in providing bonds to keep or attract new franchises. Cities have been allowed to sell bonds to build stadiums, with the bond buyers having their interest payments exempt from federal taxes. In 1995(???check) Fitch investor Services estimated that Wall Street was preparing to issue about $7 billion in such bonds over the next five to seven years. Sports magnate H. Wayne Huizenga was bold enough in 1997 to seek (and almost receive) a “second helping of public money” for $60 million to renovate Pro-Player Stadium. Overall within the past decade, state and local governments have “committed $396 million to build six major locations” according to Herald reporter Peter Whoriskey, including $59 million for the Homestead motorsports complex in Homestead for Ralph Sanchez, the man who never fulfilled his earlier obligations to help resussitate Bicentennial Park when he left it.(15)
Overall, television, has been a crucial actor in fostering and defining this economic juggernaut, greatly expanding the audience beyond stadium walls, while reinforcing the attractions of sports through advertising and local news. TV fragmented sports events, notably through Roone Arledge’s Wide World of Sports, while privileging them through such popular programs as “Monday Night Football.” Sports spectacles have became powerful badges of local identity, amalgamating politics, business and entertainment through increasingly seamless merchandising, promotion, and TV news banter. “Developers have fallen in love with “synergy,” the integration of ticket sales with cast albums, baseball caps, posters, dolls and hambergers, formerly and less pretentiously known as tie-ins,” noted a Newsweek writer in 1995. That sports promotion has become an important growth industry, has been underscored most recently by the popular film “Jerry McGuire.” The “excitement, challenge, and complexity of sport marketing” according to one recent textbook on the subject, has overcome what Theodore Levitt earlier called “marketing myopia” where sports entrepreneurs only saw their business in terms of goods and services instead of broader thematically designed consumer desires.(16)
Local TV news, a relentless booster of area sports teams, seldom provides critical perspectives of the industry. Beginning in the late 1960s, TV news consultants began to place soft news, including sports, on a pedestal while increasing the airtime and allure of local sports personalities as newscasters in Miami as elsewhere. Yet simultaneously, the pressure to sensationalize news evolved alongside the delocalizing of anchors and reporters, leaving TV news with little interest in providing a sense of history, texture, or insightful political awareness of local developments. As longtime Miami TV newsman Michael Putney recently put it,”just as there has been in every part of life…there is a dumming down that goes on [on local TV news]… you can come in and get the quick hit and make a point and move on. That is what attracted alot of these [young reporters] to television.” (17)
Public parks have not been able to rival the spectacles produced in stadia or on TV. Recent theorists have been critical of the notion of parks as “counterspace” for zones of freedom, self determination and choice” because they nonetheless remain pervaded by commercial values. Professional sports remain spectacles of action with a local resonance, even if so many of their players are imported from other locales. More demonstratably popular than “passive” parks, their dramatic elements fuse more easily with the sense of contemporaneity. They are better press and melt human elements into grand tabeaux of color and light, action and vast crowds of engaged fan-participants. When combined with exciting architectural forms, and increasing tie ins between television promotion, retail outlets, even the lure of nostalgia, sports spectacles, from Super Bowls down to local games, have come to function as compelling community rituals. (18)
Randy Roberts and James Olson’s 1989 history of sports concluded that “for individuals, families, groups, and communities sports had become a new cultural currency, a common ground upon which a diverse people could express their values and needs.” It functions to solidify local identity and had become the “secular religion of America.” Professional sports have created new modes of intense collective affectivity and, according to such scholars as Maffesoli and Rojeck, “it is because we take this process to be an ordinary, unexceptional feature of daily life that the concentrted spectacles revolving around acting and spectating draw us in with such intensity.” As a Miami Herald from page headline reassured locals several weeks ago “Marlins Mania: It’s Natural.”(19)
Politics, the Public and The Art of the Deal
In early 1996, while Mickey Arison and Carmen Lunetta sought to promote the construction of port facilities and an Arena on the bay, H. Wayne Huyzenga, owner of the Panthers, the Dolphins, the Marlins and part owner of the franchise controlling the old Arena, remained adamantly opposed to using downtown Miami as a sports venue. He had bought Joe Robbie Stadium on the Broward County line, renamed it Pro-Player Stadium, and named his baseball team the Marlins because of his desire to be identified with a regional – even statewide – market rather than with Miami.
Representatives of Huizenga and Arison had prolonged discussions in 1995 and 1996 about collaborating on building a new arena to serve both teams, but Huyzenga said through a spokesman that he would “not own a team that plays in downtown Miami.” Heat coach Pat Riley, on the other hand, began likening a new arena at the Port of Miami to the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. “I would like to see the Port of Miami just like the statue of Liberty,” he remarked…As these boats come in…they see this building there. I really believe that’s going to be important in re-establishing a solid base for professional basketball, for professional hockey, for entertainment, for concerts, for other events.”(25)
On January 25th, 1996 two men attended a Panther game, Tony Ridder, Chairman of the Miami Herald’s parent company and David Weaver, a prominent developer, owner of parcels of downtown land, Vice-Chairman of the University of Miami Board of Trustees and a major proponent of the Performing Arts Center. Weaver sought to have a new Arena built on what he called “Heat Street” near the bay while Ridder was interested in having the arena on the bay built in the FEC tract near the Herald properties. The next month Ridder met in secret with a steering committee involving city and county officials and Heat representatives to examine a variety of issues related to city and county jurisdiction in keeping both the Heat and the Panthers in Miami. Requests from Miami Herld and Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel reporters to open the meetings up to public scrutiny were denied. The dramatic intensity of the struggle to keep the Heat in Miami, given prominent coverage by the local news media, featured the jockeying between Arison and Huyzenga for concessions from both Broward and Dade County. Huyzenga was able to extract $183 million in public funds from Broward to construct a stadium in Sunrise. Broward then then gave Arison a deadline to sign an agreement to use the same stadium, forcing Dade to come up with its own offer. Arison decided not to sign with Broward because Huzenga was known to be trying to sell the team and Arison didn’t want to commit to a thirty year relationship with an as yet to be determined owner. So much for local loyalty.(26)
The local news media returned again and again to the breathless drama of the negotiations that spring, providing little historical context about the land. The focus remained on whether the team would remain in Miami at the location that Arison demanded. Stories often focused on Heat fan reaction to breaking news developments and only occasionally exhibited questions about the use of public funds for such a project. While local TV news and the Herald promoted that perspective, the smaller weekly papers, such as Miami Today, the New Times and the Miami Daily Business Review, throughout the entire year, remained far more critical of the exploitation of public bayfront land and the steamroller tactics surrounding the issue.(26c)
That spring, after little debate, the County Commission vote in favor of highly lucrative deal to keep the Heat. It provided…

One of the few dissenters, Commissioner Alex Penelas intoned at one point that “the more you look into the details the more you figure out its a bad deal for Dade county. I think its a bad deal for a lot of reasons….It’s clearly a very one-sided deal that basically benefits the Heat tremendously…We basically decided to give away the kitchen sink to keep them here. I don’t think it says a lot abut our priorities.” Funds should be used for other purposes, he asserted, for roads and social services and parks, even though tourist taxes and state development monies were to be used to cover part of the costs.(27)
The Herald’s opinion in the matter, severely compromised in public by its financial interest and its part in the negotiations remained unequivocal and intimidating. A June editorial asserted, “there’s scant chance that the city of Miami will ever have the wallet or the will to make Bicentennial Park a truly welcoming park, or the FEC tract more than a barren pavement….Miami’s government has made a sow’s ear of a silk purse. The only realistic hope of reversing the process is to use that public land in a way that will bring the crowds back there, in safety.” Paul, who had heard opposition expressed in private by many downtown leaders told the New Times that “average citizens have more guts than these so-called civic leaders who are afraid of offending the almighty Herald. Civic leadership in this community is weak and timid.” With the downtown business establishment, Herald and local TV coverage publicly favoring the Heat, it appeared that the story was over. Except that Paul, joined by Commissioners Sorenson, Penalas and others, championed the idea of a referendum to overturn the Arena being built on waterfront public parkland. (29)
The Fall Campaign
Dan Paul was a wealthy 72 year old lawyer possessing a brilliant mind, a sharp tongue and a penchant for open spaces, opera, and big yachts. Born in North Florida, he came to Miami from Harvard Law School in 1949, got involved in writing the charter for Metro government in the 1950s, had represented AT&T, the New York Times, Florida Power and Light and, until 1983, the Miami Herald. Yet Paul had been a strong proponent of public parks on the bay for decades and openly contemptuous of local grafters. A close friend of opera impressario Judy Drucker, he personified high culture in the Miami Area. And he had led the referendum campaign in 1972 that resulted in the creation of Bicentennial Park and the purchase of the FEC tract.(30)
As he grew increasingly angry at the way the Arena deal was being handled that spring, Paul decided to start gathering signatures to place a referendum on the fall ballot aimed at stopping construction in the FEC tract. He eventually paid over $70,000 of his own money to hire National Petititon Management to coordinate the drive. Along with hundreds of volunteers, over 48,000 signatures were collected by early September, more than enough to assure a place on the ballot. But the plot thickened as Heat attorneys were successful in persuading the County Commission to change the language of the referendum, rewriting it to favor the Heat. Should the county be prohibited from buiding on the site? People who opposed the Arena had to vote yes instead of no, reversing the language of Paul’s petition. (31)
Results of the runoff for the Dade County Mayor’s election were completed by October. The two finalists were Alex Penelas, a Cuban-American, and Arthur Teele, an African-American. Both campaigned against the Arena deal, even though Teele had voted for it as a commissioner in June. A late August ad featured an announcer noting that Penelas was “the only candidate for mayor who has voted against using public money to build a new downtown arena for the Miami Heat.” Penelas, pictured by a kids basketball court, then introduced himself: “I’m Alex Penelas. I don’t think Dade County should help finance luxury skyboxes for millionaires to watch pro-basketball. Our top priority should be to make it safe for kids to play basketball in neighborhood playgrounds.” This quasi-populist approach, convincing across ethnic neighborhoods at the time, was, by most accounts, of considerable help in his eventual election victory over Teele.(32)
Yet the outcome of the Arena referendum remained fluid as the Heat’s advertising campaign became an increasingly powerful factor. Eventually, well over $3.5 million was spent by the Heat against $10,000 by Arena opponents. Of crucial importance was the manner in which the terms of the debate were reversed. One Heat ad called on voters to “Save Our Waterfront.” Coach Riley told viewers in a 30 second spot that “We can turn this into a fantastic waterfront park. It’s a new waterfront with a new message: Miami is world class.” Later in the month, a TV ad featured computer generated sailboats whipping by a modestly scaled Arena surrounded by greenspace. A narrator associated opponents with corrupt politicians. “Here’s a quiz about the new waterfront. Who pays to build it? Existing hotel taxes on tourists and $50 million from the Miami Heat. There will be no new taxes on Dade residents. How many new jobs created? Sixteen hundred new jobs, according to a study by Price Waterhouse. Who is against it? Politicians, who want to keep the tourist money for their wasteful spending. Help save the new waterfront park. Vote no on question 284.” This strategy dovetailed with other ads picturing sleasy bureaucrats, sponsored by the sugar industry, who sought to persuade voters to oppose a referendum requiring them to pay millions to help clean up their chemical run off in the Everglades. (33)
After their earlier success in getting the issue on the ballot, however, the political inexperience and disorganization of Arena opponents became manifest. Dan Paul openly disliked getting involved in any organization. “He works as powerfully as he can as an individual, drafting ordinances, referendums, and engaging people to support him, without spending hardly any time on organizing people…” noted another prominent opponent, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Dean of the University of Miami’s School of Architecture and a well known urban planner. Paul, Plater-Zyberk and Jorge Espinel, an architect originally from Columbia, were the leaders of the opposition. Their central argument was not against building another arena but the lack of overall planning of downtown development, consideration of real costs and public involvement involved and the placement of the structure on the waterfront in front of the areas oldest building, the Freedom Tower. These three spoke out at numerous Commission meetings at which public comment was often minimized by arcane procedures as well as by public cynicism about being able to effect the issues involved. (34)
Espinel and Plater-Zyberk were also central characters in trying to form a new organization in 1996 called the Urban Environment League, intended to provide a forum for professional expertise in urban design as well as increased public involvement in local affairs. Yet due to their political inexperience, the UEL’s programs, activities and influence remained marginal, including the fact that it was almost totally ignored by the Herald and local television stations. Attempts to get press attention by the UEL were abysmal failures. Other organizations such as the Sierra Club stayed out of the fray. Four UEL members, including Espinel and Plater-Zyberk called a press conference shortly before the vote but only Channel Four and Spanish language Channel 23 showed up, and none of it made the local news. (34b)
Spokespersons for the Heat were Pauline Winick, a local public relations person and Jay Cross, Heat President, who had a background in architecture and sports management. Cross and Paul were featured in a quasi- debate published by the Herald on Sunday October 27, 1996 and in a later discussion on local TV. Cross noted that the new arena would attract more “corporate bigwigs…Companies will want to be part of the action…Public support is appropriate because the arena is a public facility that helps to make Miami a big league city.” (35)
Up to November 1, polls showed voters still opposed to

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the Arison plan. A Miami Herald poll, published on October 30th, found 48% opposed to the arena deal while 35% were for it. But more significantly, 71% said they would be willing to have the team build an arena on the waterfront provided the arena was built with private money. Only 20% opposed that alternative. (36)
In his inaugural address on October 15, after winning a lopsided victory over Teele, Penelas told area residents that, “It is wrong for taxpayers to foot the bill for hundreds of millions of dollars for a new arena when the average working family can’t even afford tickets to a game.” Yet Penelas had already been laying the groundwork for a better deal for the County. He had never been much of a champion for the park as a non-commercial area. Penelas knew that his best leverage with Arison was before the referendum vote was completed. So he oversaw a dramatic last minute compromise with Arison without consulting Dade County Commissioners. The Herald reported that one of the elements was a threat to unleash Cuban radio and the hispanic voting bloc against Arison’s arena deal if he didn’t agree to pay for more of the costs of the Arena. (37)
The final deal extracted by Penelas saw Arison forced to pay for a much larger part of the cost of the Arena itself, while other collateral costs remained the responsibility of the taxpayers. Penelas switched sides and strongly supported the agreement in front of the cameras, noting only the cost factor. Local news programs as well as the Herald greeted this news, with the referendum then considered all but decided in favor of the new agreement. The Herald reported the deal struck by Penelas and Arison, using the language of sports reportage, as if the referendum had become moot. “The Miami Heat and Metro Mayor Alex Penelas have reached a deal to build a privately financed arena on Miami’s waterfront, ending months of acrimony between the two sides over a plan that had taxpayers footing most of the bill. ..Their pact comes at the final buzzer, just five days before an Election Day showdown between the team and arena opponents. Both sides had something to lose. The Heat’s hopes for a new arena could have been crushed in the election, if voters had approved a referendum to block construction of an arena on the waterfront.” The story contained no comment from any other opponent of the deal. (38)
Those who continued to question the deal were given scant opportunity to present their remaining arguments about the Arena in the aftermath of Penelas deal. Dan Paul was quoted only as saying: “Within one month after being elected, he violated his campaign promise by giving up on the waterfront park…It still involves a massive use of public tax funds.” One exception was an op ed piece in the Herald, jointly authored by me and Elizabeth-Plater Zyberk on the day before the election. Written out of anger and frustration, we wrote in part that “the Heat, the port, and the Herald are colluding to undermine our democratic values in ways that mirror the obscene power of money in the presidential campaign…Grossly deceptive advertising has tried to lull Dade residents into thinking that arena and port proposals can be transformed into pretty parks. There are no guarantees of public access or quality of design or open space in the arena-port’s projected use of the bayfront. We should not be intimidated by the threats of economic demise; fear should not be the driving force of building 21st Century Miami. We can’t be a world-class city if it means taking on world-class debt or exhibiting world-class stupidity.” Scant good it did.(39)
The previous day, the Herald published a summary history of the arena controversy by its architecture critic Peter Whoriskey. The 1972 Bond issue was never mentioned. Whoriskey quotes Jonathan Barnet, the urban planner, who commented that “the problem with big empty spaces is that they often are taken over by anti-social elements. Once that happens, you can’t get anyone else to go there…The way cities are today, a public space has to be energized with people or events to feel safe. If you build a cafe next to a park, for example, that creates a zone of safety because the people in the cafe are keeping an eye on the open space.” Opponents were given three out of 33 paragraphs and pictured as archaic advocates of pastoral green land with Paul quoted only as saying “it’s not supposed to be `a honky-tonk by the bay.'” (40)
Aside from the tremendous television advertising campaign of the Heat, their use of Heat players as celebrities touring black neighborhoods was probably effective….
The final vote saw proponents of the Arena clobbering the opponents by 59% to 41%. Aided by Penelas’ last minute use of spanish language radio, strong support in the African-American communities, the effectiveness and financial clout of the Arison forces, and the facility of using local news media, a majority of voters had repudiated the efforts of Dan Paul and his allies. It was an important episode illustrating how urban political forces, professional sports entrepreneurs and the news media have acted to erode local citizenship by dazzling the public with novel spectacles and a waterfront accentuated as a professional sport venue, retail outlet and industrial zone for the port.
Jay Cross left the Miami Heat to become president of Jet’s Development, which in early 2001, released a report regarding a billion dollar development plan on the West side of Manhattan. Cross acknowledged to a New York Times reporter in his new job that “a publicly subsidized stadium produced huge revenues for team owners and players but has relatively little impact on the city’s economy. Conversely, he added, convention centers make very little money but have a huge economic effect as thousands of conventioneers spend their money in the city.” The only “things that grow next to stadiums are parking lots,” he continued. Yet, as the piper for another master, Cross sought to marry a new stadium with a convention center. “By marrying the two, you get the advantage of investing in the convention center, which will have an enormous economic impact, and as a side benefit, we achieve the purpose of putting a sports team in a state-of-the-art facility.” His view was questioned by urban tourism expert Mark S. Rosentraub, who said that New York was too expensive for many conventions and way and that Cross was probably overstating the case for the marriage. Few in Miami probably noted the irony of Cross’ new argument as the worsening economic fate of the American Airlines Arena was becoming more and more obvious.
[Charles Bagli, “Jets, Citing Benefits to New York City, Detail Plan for Stadium,” New York Times January 27, 2001.]
The Heat, in fact, continued to arrogantly demand further concessions from local governments to fund their expanding space and renege on commitments.
[See Jose Luis Jimenez, “The Heat’s Hot Air,” Miami New Times, April 13, 2000, p. 9-10

Comparative Perspective: Maryland Governor and Gambling Issue. Where Is Florida’s Governor Scott?

Gambling: An issue Gov. Martin O’Malley can’t escape

By John Wagner, Published: May 26
During Maryland’s 90-day legislative session, there were few battles that Gov. Martin O’Malley worked harder to avoid than an attempted gambling expansion.
Just a few weeks later, it has become a fight he says he can’t escape.

”To accomplish other things, I do things this world requires of me,” Maryland’s governor says.

However reluctantly, O’Malley (D) now finds himself struggling to broker a deal over whether to allow a full-fledged casino in Prince George’s County and add Las Vegas-style table games at the state’s existing slots locations.
Brinkmanship over the issue contributed to last month’s collapse of the General Assembly session, and O’Malley said he has concluded that letting it fester any longer would get in the way of his priorities and stoke more distrust among legislative leaders.
“I saw it make a mess of the closing days of our legislature, and it threatens to do the same for the remaining two years that I have to serve the people of this state,” O’Malley, who is widely thought to harbor ambitions beyond Maryland, said in an interview last week. “My hope is to resolve this issue and put it behind us.”
His first step toward that goal was assembling an 11-member working group that will convene this week with the hope of crafting a consensus that eluded the legislature during a session in which it also failed to finish work on the state budget.
O’Malley declined to lay out his position but said that if the group can come up with a plan the General Assembly is likely to go along with, he’ll call a special legislative session in early July.
With a host of competing interests, reaching an accord is expected to be difficult — and some suggest that the governor is naive to think anything done this summer will make the gambling debate go away for good.
If there is a special session, “he becomes the central player,” said David Cordish, the developer of the state’s largest planned casino, which is scheduled to open next week in Anne Arundel County. “He will either go down as the champion of expanded gambling or he won’t.”
The work group is likely to start with discussion of a Senate plan that called for a statewide vote on allowing a Prince George’s casino, most likely at National Harbor, and table games, such as black jack and roulette, at the state’s five previously authorized slots locations.
That plan is anathema to Cordish, who has argued that it’s patently unfair for the state to allow another casino that would cut significantly into his expected market of the District and Northern Virginia. Maryland leaders should not change the rules of the game before all five slots locations have a chance to succeed, he said.
“It sends a signal that Maryland is not a reliable partner,” Cordish said, adding that a better solution would be to add table games at the five existing locations and delay consideration of a sixth site.
Others have argued that there is a way to be fair to everyone — including bumping up the share of proceeds that existing casinos would be able to keep.
That leaves it to O’Malley to broker a deal, which is not an altogether-unfamiliar place for him. In 2007, in his first year as governor, he sponsored legislation that launched Maryland’s slots program despite being on record as saying gambling proceeds were a “morally bankrupt” way to fund education.
At the time, O’Malley cast the measure as a compromise that would allow the legislature to move past an issue that had bitterly divided Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) for years. “My preconception was that I would never have to deal with this issue again as long as I live,” O’Malley said. “I was wrong.”
There have been several significant changes since 2007.
Back then, most elected officials in Prince George’s County were solidly opposed to hosting a gaming site, citing addiction and other social ills that can accompany gambling.
Now, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), who was elected in 2010, is continuing to lead the charge for a “high-level, billion-dollar” casino at National Harbor that could bring tens of millions in additional revenue to his county every year.
With O’Malley’s involvement, Baker said that he thinks the prospects for achieving his vision “are pretty good.” Also since 2007, slots casinos in the surrounding states of Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania have added table games, creating a disadvantage for Maryland sites in a competitive industry.
A Miller-backed bill that addressed both those issues rocketed through the Senate late in the 90-day session and then sputtered to its demise on the final day in the House. Busch said O’Malley’s engagement in the issue is “important because obviously there were a lot of challenges without his involvement.” But Busch also suggested that assembling the votes for legislation similar to the Senate bill could prove more difficult now.
“I think there’s a challenge in lowering the tax rate on casino owners after you just raised taxes on some Marylanders,” Busch said, referring to a decision to increase income taxes on six-figure earners in a special session called this month to finish work on the state budget.
Another hurdle emerged last week with an announcement by House Republicans that their members

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oppose a special session on gambling, an issue the minority party said needs to be considered in a “more deliberative and thoughtful fashion.”
O’Malley and others have argued that the issue needs to be resolved quickly so that needed approval from voters can be sought this fall. Otherwise, the earliest voters could have a say would be 2014. Despite Baker’s strong support, not all members of the Prince George’s House delegation are convinced of the wisdom of allowing a gambling site in their county. And some minds aren’t likely to be changed regardless of what O’Malley’s work group recommends, said Del. Melony G. Griffith (D), the delegation chairwoman.
The state has hired a consultant to take a closer look at the impact a Prince George’s site would have on the other Maryland casinos. The consultant’s numbers are expected to guide any work-group recommendation on how to compensate other casino owners.
Cordish said he is sympathetic to O’Malley’s desire to put the issue behind him but said this won’t be the end of the gambling debate in Maryland.
“I guarantee you, if Prince George’s is extended the sixth, there will be a seventh and an eighth asking for a license,” he said. “That’s just the nature of this animal.”
Related stories:
May 24: Md. House GOP says no to special gaming session
May 22: Second Md. special session could be week of July 9
May 11: O’Malley wants fast action from Md. gambling work group

Genting’s Plan Under Fire MH Jan 10, 2014

Genting’s plans under fire

The casino giant that promised a major boost to Miami’s economy now sees its business plans coming under fire on multiple fronts.

Genting, which three years ago proposed bringing a massive casino resort to the Miami waterfront, recently acquired a racetrack license it says allows for a modest 2,000-machine slot parlor on its land holdings. Its plans to start construction on a new hotel and condo complex at the old Miami Herald headquarters are now at least a year

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behind schedule. As Genting continues to tout gambling’s potential in Florida, it is making headlines for laying off 175 restaurant workers at its casino in New York.

The Malaysian-based company sued the federal government this fall in an effort to continue using foreign labor for a Miami-based casino ship offering overnight gambling cruises in international waters. On Friday, a federal judge ruled against Genting‘s request to overturn orders by immigration officials to either stop the cruises or hire U.S. workers as crew.

“The same company that promised to create 100,000 jobs is now suing the federal government to try and exploit foreign workers at subpar wages rather than hire Floridians,’’ said John Sowinski, the Orlando-based campaign consultant who heads up the No Casinos advocacy group. “It shows how big a lie the jobs argument is.”

Genting’s Miami-based executives rarely give interviews, and also declined to comment for this story. Through its public relations firm, Schwartz Media Strategies, the company issued a statement that said in part: “We are evaluating and pursuing all opportunities that arise. Our immediate focus is on developing a world-class, mixed-use project with residential, hotel and retail uses that will serve as a waterfront anchor in downtown Miami.”

In 2011, Genting paid about $400 million for the old waterfront Miami Herald site and the nearby Omni commercial complex. With South Florida still reeling from the recession and an idled construction industry, Genting pledged 100,000 jobs at a new $3 billion Resorts World Miami, with 50 restaurants, 5,200 hotel rooms and some 8,000 slot machines.

When lawmakers balked at changing state gambling laws to allow the project and a similar Miami casino sought by Las Vegas Sands, Genting began pursuing other options. Last spring, Genting said it would move forward with a large hotel and condo towers on the 14-acre Herald site. Demolition of the newspaper’s former building was slated for the end of 2013.

On Friday, Genting said the new schedule doesn’t anticipate demolition until the fall. The company said it faced more environmental issues than it anticipated on the Herald site, which the media company occupied until its May 2013 move to Doral. Genting has not submitted the zoning proposals required to start development, or released the renderings and floor plans needed to launch condo sales. “We are still refining the design and expect to submit our plans later this year,” Genting said.

With the resort plans stalled, Genting this week revealed an effort to bring 2,000 slot machines to the waterfront. The company announced a partnership with the Gulfstream racetrack in Hallandale Beach to use one of its two permits to authorize slots and off-track-betting at Genting’s property 17 miles away.

The plan quickly drew fire from Genting foes. “Slot machines are not compatible with the cultural climate of the area,’’ Miami Sen. Gwen Margolis, a Miami Democrat, wrote in a letter Thursday to Senate President Don Gaetz. The News Service of Florida first reported on the letter.

A Genting lobbyist described the slots parlor as “a less lucrative” option than the resort the company originally proposed. It would have none of the table games favored by the wealthy Asian gamblers it promised to deliver. That left Genting’s allies to grapple with a scaled-back version of the economic windfall the company said it could deliver if Florida approved its original plan.

“The large-scale resort they’re contemplating will attract visitors,’’ said Rep. Erik Fresen, the Miami Republican who sponsored Genting’s original gambling bill in 2012. “But I don’t think it’s going to redirect the gaming tourists from South America.”

Genting said it hasn’t given up on building a large “destination” resort with the kind of casino it originally proposed. But its more modest entry into South Florida’s gaming industry has also brought problems.

Last summer, Genting launched a 1,500-passenger casino ship to run passengers daily from Port Miami to the Bimini Bay casino and resort, which it began managing in 2012. Like major cruise lines, Genting took advantage of federal law allowing it to employ foreign workers for trips to foreign ports.

But when Genting began running overnight “cruises to nowhere” that didn’t require stops at Bimini, immigration officials ruled the trips required U.S. crews. Genting said it employs 250 foreign visa holders on the Bimini SuperFast, and that they live onboard the vessel. Replacing them with U.S. workers would require hefty termination fees, and Genting said the ban on gambling cruises endangered its entire SuperFast venture.

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled against Genting’s suit, writing that the company’s argument would let ships that occasionally headed to foreign ports to be “effectively skirting immigration employment laws.”

In a statement issued late Friday, Genting said the ruling would not impact its day cruises to Bimini, “which will continue without interruption.”

As Genting awaited its Bimini SuperFast ruling after a three-month court fight, the company also faced political push-back in New York over casino employees. On Monday, Genting laid off 175 employees at the buffet restaurant at its Resorts World slots casino in Queens. The dismissals came after Genting and the casino’s union negotiated a new labor deal in October that had some workers making $60,000 a year, and the buffet employees earning $12 an hour instead of $5, according to a New York Times report.

“We made the difficult decision to close the Aqueduct Buffet because it never caught on with our customers and was no longer economically viable,” Genting said in its statement. “We sincerely regret the impact this closure has on the buffet’s employees and are working closely with the Hotel Trades Council to ease this transition.”

Read more here:

Heat Strategy in Selling Arena Deal in 1996 Revealed – How Cynical! Relates to Parcel B That we Are Now Calling Arena Park (2004 article)

Sports Business Journal: January 12 – 18, 2004
Successful strategies for pitching an arena project to voters
Published January 12, 2004
Major league sports and big-time politics are more connected than most people think. Both arouse public passions, both are in the news on a daily basis and both are fiercely competitive. When a major sports team seeks public approval to build a new stadium, sports and politics combine in a unique campaign.
Team boosters and owners are often surprised to learn that the public is often slow to warm to the idea of building a new sports stadium. When the Miami Heat announced plans to build a state-of-the-art waterfront arena in 1994, civic leaders who supported the deal were shocked to see polls showing a majority of the public opposed the new arena. Worse yet, an up-and-coming candidate for mayor made opposition to the arena a centerpiece of his campaign and roared from behind to victory.
Voters are wary of arena deals because they are both stingy with public funds on big projects and suspect of big sports teams needing any public money in the first place. They read about huge player salaries and assume that wealthy team owners can pay for the stadium themselves. Voters also fear traffic jams caused by big arena projects.

The Miami Heat used then coach Pit Riley in television ads that touted what a new arena would do for the entire community.

Team owners quickly find that a strong fan base alone does not provide enough votes to win a referendum campaign or force a new stadium project on wary public officials.
So what is a sports franchise to do when the world of sports merges with the world of politics over a proposed arena or stadium? A quick study of the Miami Heat’s successful campaign to win a Dade County referendum provides some interesting answers.
In 1996, the Miami Heat faced strong grassroots opposition to its plan to build AmericanAirlines Arena along the waterfront in Biscayne Bay in Miami. A Dade County open-space advocate had secured the petition signatures necessary to place a referendum on the November ballot to block the Heat’s arena from being built. In late August, the arena project appeared to be doomed. A Miami Herald poll showed that 60 percent of Dade County voters were opposed to the new Heat arena being built along the waterfront. And while the agreement called for Dade County to invest only $8.5 million a year to pay maintenance and operation costs associated with the new arena, there was still strong opposition to taxpayer subsidies in the project.
When the Heat hired my consulting firm, we did the first thing we would do in any political campaign. We conducted a Hill Research poll to find out why voters were opposed to the new arena and what messages we could use to change their minds.
We found that to win we had to make the referendum about more than basketball. It is important to convince voters that the winners in a new stadium are not the big team owners but the entire community. That demands a wider argument than just the glittering attributes of a shiny new arena for the home team. We had to make the campaign about civic pride, and we needed an effective candidate-like spokesman to sell our message. The argument that the Heat might leave Miami was persuasive to some voters but was not a compelling enough message to secure victory.
Our research showed that Pat Riley, the Heat’s coach at the time, was the team’s greatest asset. Riley was viewed as a big celebrity, a winner and someone who added prestige to the Heat and the entire city.
We also saw that different voter groups each saw different benefits in the arena. This was important. Most cities are combinations of different communities, each with its own unique outlook. In Dade County, Cuban-Americans saw the arena as a symbol of pride and local achievement. African-Americans saw an economic project bringing new jobs and had pride in the local NBA team. White voters were most excited about a new family-friendly park on Miami’s waterfront, including soccer fields and a new arena, which would bring in concerts and other entertainment events. Recasting the arena as a waterfront park and arena was to be key to our campaign.

It is important to convince voters that the winners in a new stadium are not the big team owners but the entire community.

We featured Riley prominently in political-campaign-style TV ads to deliver our message that Miami was a world-class city that deserved a world-class waterfront park and arena. The Riley ads refuted the notion that the referendum campaign was just about basketball and focused on the economic benefits and excitement the waterfront development would bring to the city.
To support the paid advertising we ran on TV, we ran aggressive direct-mail and phone campaigns that targeted research-driven messages to each specific voter community in Dade County. Jay Cross, Heat president at the time, hit the chicken dinner circuit with an impressive presentation on the new arena. We appealed to Cuban-American voters with Spanish-language ads and mail, and we conducted a community-by-community bus tour with Riley and Heat players to generate media coverage and momentum behind our “Save the Waterfront” campaign. We constantly checked and rechecked our effort with polling to make sure the numbers were moving our way.
In five weeks, we were able to shift the referendum debate from a question of building a sports arena for a millionaire owner and his millionaire players to one of securing Miami’s reputation as

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a first-tier American city. On Election Day, the anti-arena referendum was rejected by a vote of 59 percent to 41 percent, a nearly 40-point turnaround from the late August polling numbers.
So how do the lessons of the Miami Heat’s successful referendum campaign apply today? To be sure, the political situation that owners face now is more difficult than in 1996. There is much evidence to show that new sports arenas haven’t delivered the economic bang their proponents promised. There is growing fan dissent over rising ticket

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prices and spiraling player salaries. And there is a very real perception that teams have no loyalty to their communities.
All of these dynamics point up the need for sports teams to turn to political professionals to run the elections they need to win to secure public financing for new arenas. In most circumstances, the opposition forces to building a new arena will not have the resources to wage a traditional campaign with television ads and the other tactics we used in the Miami Heat campaign. This is a big advantage that owners should fully exploit. For a relatively small investment (we spent $3.5 million to win the Miami campaign), you can run a political-style campaign that will drive the public debate on your referendum.
The bottom line is if you need to win public financing to build a new stadium, you should do these things: First, start early, plan ahead and use a political pro who understands the schizophrenic way voters think about issues and elections to run your campaign. Second, make the argument wider than a shiny new building for your team, no matter how popular you are. Third, don’t be afraid to set the terms of the debate yourself, instead of waiting for your opponents to corner you.
Michael E. Murphy is a partner in the Washington, D.C., and Sacramento-based public affairs firm Navigators. He has handled strategy and media for more than 20 successful gubernatorial and senatorial campaigns, and has worked with the Miami Heat and the New York Jets on arena or stadium issues.

Attack on County Charter Article 7 – Please Attend County COmmission Meeting 9:30 Am Monday 6/9/14 at County Hall

There is a last min. item on the Rec and Cultural Affairs committee on Monday — Item attached.

This is a bad idea — way to vague – and no time at all to react — It violates 4 day rule so could
be withdrawn.  It is calling for a referendum in November — if we can delay this it may preclude
meeting that date —

Commissioners are Souto, Barbara Jordan, J, Monestine and BCC Chambers.

Call or email their offices to complain about the time frame – and that it requires much more review
and discussion


Architects, Museum Advocates and Planners Decry Soccer Stadium

Debate over soccer stadium centers on park use


Downtown Miami skyline featuring Museum Park. Paul Morris / Paul Morris

Image 1 of 4


In a ballroom at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Miami Thursday, supporters of…




The vision for Miami’s new Museum Park began 14 years ago with a ferocious tussle over a proposed baseball stadium on downtown Miami’s waterfront, and it could soon end the same way — this time in a new battle over ex-footballer David Beckham’s campaign for a pro soccer stadium on the very spot.

Back then, a band of urban activists, civic leaders and politicians beat back a plan to build the Florida Marlins a ballpark in what was then semi-derelict Bicentennial Park. After scores of often-contentious public meetings and city commission hearings, multiple revisions, lawsuits and one referendum, a compromise plan emerged that explicitly aimed to preserve and enhance the rare public parcel of open bayfront.

That vision — for two new museums and a refurbished deepwater boat slip book-ending an expanse of open, tree-shaded parkland — is finally rounding into reality.

On June 14, six months after the splashy debut of the bayfront Pérez Art Museum Miami, the U.S. Coast Guard tall ship Eagle will sail into the long-closed slip for a three-day visit, inaugurating the long-awaited park.

Yes, a new park — encompassing shade trees, palms, a great lawn, paved paths, lights, benches, a sandy “beach,” mooring piers for boats, a new plaza on Biscayne Boulevard at the foot of the slip, and a grand new pedestrian promenade leading from the boulevard to the bay — is in the final, feverish stages of construction, and just about to open.

A finished, broad new baywalk now stretches from PAMM to the slip, and all the way around the open body of water’s half-mile perimeter to the edge of the AmericanAirlines Arena and the publicly owned, and still unimproved, county-owned plot of land behind it known as Parcel B. At the foot of the slip stands a striking, donated bronze statue by the late Cuban artist Cundo Bermudez.

The full cost to taxpayers to design, develop and build the park, including slip improvements, according to city officials: as much as $40 million, evenly divided between the park and the slip.

Swire Properties, the developer of Brickell City Centre, chipped in $700,000 more to barge dozens of 100-year-old oaks and other mature trees from the development site to the park. The semi-autonomous trust that runs nearby Bayfront Park and will manage Museum Park has budgeted $800,000 for maintenance, programming and 24-hour security for this year and expects to set aside $1 million annually after that.

But much of it may not last.


The Beckham group proposes to fill in the slip and take a substantial 4.2-acre chunk of the new park’s roughly 19 acres of green space to accommodate a stadium with at least 20,000 seats. The group has pitched the rough plan as a significant improvement and expansion for the city’s soon-to-open Museum Park, a scaled-down budget version of a blueprint by Cooper Robertson & Partners, famed designers of Manhattan’s Battery Park City and its popular esplanade.

The team has pledged to add 8.5 acres of green space behind the stadium, for a claimed net gain of 4.3 acres, including Parcel B, which would become part of their park. They say the stadium, to be used for about 25 events a year, would include restaurants to “activate” a park that they claim now consists of little more than grass and would otherwise be “dead space.”

“It’s much more than 20 percent better. It’s 100 percent better,” Beckham’s real estate advisor, John Alschuler said earlier this month during the group’s presentation of watercolor sketches and computer renderings outlining their plan, which is being developed by Miami’s Arquitectonica firm.

But the new Museum Park could be rapidly turning into an inconvenient, and possibly substantial, obstacle to Beckham’s campaign to put another stadium, though likely a smaller one, in the same prime public property once coveted by the Marlins.

Because the property has been closed and fenced off for years, many Miamians seem unaware that the new park and its fully refurbished slip are nearly ready for public use. The slip, a remnant of the old Port of Miami, had long been unusable because its seawall had collapsed and it lacked moorings for boats.

Alschuler, who has made a name as a sharp facilitator of some of the country’s most successful urban turnarounds and new parks, is brusquely dismissive of Museum Park — which he has likened to a Chevy in comparison to Beckham’s “Cadillac” — and its supporters.

“The slip is not a source of energy and activity, and never can be,” he said in an interview Thursday. “No one can defend this park. It’s going to be a failed park.”

But those who have long been awaiting the park are outraged.

The rapid embrace of the Museum Park stadium plan by Beckham’s team, along with Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, has provoked a heated reaction from many downtown residents, in particular those in the four new condo towers across from the park site, whose associations are organizing to oppose it.

Many say they had purchased expensive units in full expectation of one day enjoying the unobstructed green space in Museum Park that the city commission, then including Regalado, unanimously approved in 2008.

Some find it galling that Beckham and local political leaders would try to undo more than a decade’s worth of work and public investment for the private benefit of the retired soccer star and his investors just as it’s all about to finally pay off for Miami residents.

“It was always meant to be parkland. To me that was huge,” said Dalia Lagoa, president of the association at 900 Biscayne. “It’s a park that all people will be able to enjoy. It’s quiet. It’s open to the south. It’s a peaceful environment. The most appealing thing about the park is that you can take a stroll down Biscayne Boulevard and there’s trees and grass and benches and water right there, not hidden behind some monstrosity.

“I can’t imagine Beckham going to the mayor of London and asking to put a soccer stadium in Kensington Park, in James Park or in Hyde Park. He’d get run out of town.”

The Beckham team’s plan and its assertions have also drawn unusually direct and sharply worded criticism from a cadre of well known architects, urban designers and planners who played a role in the development of Museum Park, including Cooper Robertson principal Alexander Cooper.

The legendary designer, who has worked with Alschuler on a dozen major projects, last week signed on to a statement urging the city to reject the Beckham plan because it would “radically” disrupt the Museum Park goal of preserving open waterfront space.

The statement was coordinated by former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who made Museum Park a cornerstone of his administration. Diaz, who envisaged a Major League Soccer stadium at Marlins Park, has come out of political retirement to fight the Museum Park stadium proposal.


The design professionals say the Beckham site plan, which puts a stadium 10 stories tall on Biscayne Boulevard and orients it north-to-south, would effectively obliterate much if not most of the already built park, seal off the green space the team proposes to build from the surrounding downtown, and forever shut off the views from Biscayne Boulevard of parkland and open water now afforded by the slip, which comes right up to the sidewalk.

“It’s like landing a flying saucer in the middle of the park. It’s an abomination,” said Raul Rodriguez, a prominent local architect whose firm is doing the construction drawings for the new Frost Museum of Science, now under way at Museum Park.

Ironically, the designers argue, the Beckham alternative would re-create and exacerbate the design problems that led to the failure of Bicentenial Park, a prizewinning space that was rarely visited in part because it was cut off from Biscayne Boulevard by concrete walls and earthen berms, and became instead a haunt for the homeless. They say it’s the Beckham plan, not the Cooper Robertson version, that risks becoming a lifeless zone.

In a dissection of the Beckham plan during an interview, Terence Riley, a prominent architect who as director of the former Miami Art Museum guided the development of the lavishly praised and heavily visited PAMM, called the stadium site plan “mind-boggling,” “preposterous,” “misguided” and “kind of crazy.”

“I can’t understand the urban logic behind it,” said Riley, former chief curator of architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “I’ve done a lot of research on stadiums and arenas, and, no matter what is promised, they are virtually always empty.

“The only population it would bring is a very large crowd on occasion, and that’s not what the park needs. It simply doesn’t fulfill its promise as a large urban park,” Riley said. “This puts a bad light on whoever’s advising them.

“Show me another example of an American city that after all this thoughtful planning and strategizing just sets it aside. It doesn’t exist. This is not the way urban planners who are experts in reviving cities would do things. This would be considered anathema.”

Museum Park, by contrast, was carefully designed to provide ample and inviting views into the park and the water beyond by keeping most of its perimeter open, except for where it’s blocked by an unsightly sewage pump station that would be too costly to move, supporters say.

The idea, planners say, is that residents and visitors could casually enter the park because it’s easily visible, accessible and safe.

“To put this stadium on Biscayne Boulevard would kill everything that this plan calls for, the whole idea of the open space,” said former Miami planning chief Ana Gelabert-Sanchez, who oversaw development of the Museum Park master plan and is now a consultant who also teaches urban planning at Harvard. “You would have a wall facing Biscayne Boulevard.”


The design professionals also dispute the Beckham’s team assertions that their plan would expand the park. Because the open-water slip encompasses some nine acres that are meant to be an integral part of Museum Park, filling it in and putting a stadium in the middle of the park would actually result in a net loss of open space, even taking the addition of Parcel B to the park into account, Diaz and others say.

Moreover, critics contend it’s disingenous for Alschuler and the Beckham team to claim their plan would provide a continous baywalk through the area for the first time.

The new baywalk already does that, they note, and in fact provides far more waterfront length than the Beckham alternative since it traverses the full length of the slip. Because Parcel B is already supposed to be public parkland, all that would remain is for the county, which owns it, to improve it, critics of the Beckham scheme say.

“It’s silly,” said Avra Jain, president of the Marina Blue condo association across from the park, and developer of the resuscitated MiMo Vagabond motel, soon to open farther up the boulevard. “Parcel B was already ours. That’s not a gift.”

The Beckham team’s renderings of the stadium — which Alschuler acknowledged represent “a vision, not a design” — have also come in for ridicule. In them, the presumably large stadium structure is barely discernible, and then mostly as a green mound or a transparent glass wall surrounded by greenery.

Sean McCaughan, a blogger on Curbed Miami, sardonically called it “the magical disappearing stadium for 25,000 people.”

Critics also say it’s telling the team did not release images showing views of the stadium from Biscayne Boulevard. Alschuler says they’re in design and should be ready in a few weeks.

Alschuler’s response to the critics is characteristically blunt: “They’re wrong.”

The issue comes down to differing conceptions of parks, Alschuler said. Successful urban and downtown parks need features and activities to turn them into “destination parks” that attract visitors, as opposed to “pastoral” or “passive” parks that consist mostly of trees and greenery, which don’t draw people.

Though Museum Park includes two large museums and a slip that city administrators insist will get significant use — the Miami International Boat Show wants to use it, and other tall ships are eager to visit, they say — the green space as it now exists fits the latter label, he argues. Alschuler also contends the slip is filled with floating beer cans —although no floating trash could be seen in several recent visits by reporters.

But that’s a view echoed by Beckham plan supporters.

Businessman Todd Oretsky, who co-founded Pipeline Brickell, a shared working space, attended the unveiling of the Beckham group’s latest renderings and said a stadium would bring more people to the waterfront.

“This is not a utilized park,” said Oretsky, a Bay Point resident and boater. “Nor is the water. Right now, it’s filled with garbage. It’s terrible.”

“In my experience, opportunities like this only come around once in a blue moon,” he said. “I’ve never seen a proposed deal so good for the public.”

To be sure, the park that will open in mid-June is not the full-fledged Cooper Robertson plan.

City officials, facing a budget crunch, have spent just about $10 million to $12 million on the green space, instead of the $45 million called for in the Cooper Robertson plan, which included an observation mound, a bamboo grove, a children’s garden, a park pavilion and other elaborate features that have yet to be built. (The balance of the $40 million total spent so far represents design fees, the cost of rebuilding the park’s and the slip’s seawall, environmental cleanup, and the cost of installing mooring bollards, among other big-ticket items.)

Because the park as built contains the full infrastructure framework for the more-elaborate park plan, said the project manager for the city, John De Pazos, those features can be built as money becomes available.

Alschuler said he doubts that. “Even if they had the money, that’s a very big if,” he said.

Because the basic framework is already in, Alschuler contends, it would be a simple matter to build Beckham’s alternative park template over it, meaning much of the public investment would not be wasted.

But Alschuler said the group does not intend to refund taxpayers any of the money spent on Museum Park or on slip improvements, noting that they plan instead to build the stadium, fill in the slip and rebuild the park at their own expense, “whatever the cost,” without public funds.

The team has also said it expects to pay “reasonable” rent for the land. Miami voters would have to approve the deal in November if the city commission puts the measure on the ballot.

Alschuler acknowledged the group is asking Miamians to reconsider a plan many thought long settled.

“I wasn’t here for that debate. But I’ve lived that debate many times,” he said. “I don’t want to be cavalier or flip about it, but this is what’s wonderful about American cities. We are constantly reopening these debates. Are we asking a community to take a second look at this question? Yes.”

But Museum Park supporters — many of whom say they want soccer in Miami and believe it should be downtown — say that debate is closed and the new park a fact.

“We are very close to seeing this come together. There is a critical mass downtown now. There are people there now. There is a need for open space,” Rodriguez said. “Go somewhere else.”

If the stadium is built, they contend, what would be lost — the unique proximity of Biscayne Boulevard and a body of water where porpoises and manatees are frequently sighted — could never be replaced, no matter how good Beckham’s designers are.

“It’s the only place where the water touches Biscayne Boulevard,” Gelabert-Sanchez said. “It adds recreational opportunities we otherwise would not have. It’s like having a balcony into the water. It is part of the urban aspect, to be able to look out and say, ‘This is where we live.’

“If you take this away, you’re taking away that possibility forever.”

Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.

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May 25: Demonstrations Begin Against Beckham Stadium in FEC Slip and Museum Park. More to Come.

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UEL Resolution Opposing Beckham Stadium- Walling Off Our Waterfront

Press Release: A Chevy for a Cadillac? A People’s Club?

The Urban Environment League Condemns the Soccer Stadium/Wall Against the Waterfront in Downtown Miami

A Resolution by the UEL’s Board of Directors
Contact: Gregory Bush, Vice President: 305-926-5001;

For Immediate Release: Saturday 24, 2014

While explaining why the plan for the new soccer stadium in Miami’s FEC slip (and Bicentennial Park) was so valuable for residents, David Beckham’s adviser David Altschuler recently said that trading a Chevy for a Cadillac should be a “pretty fair transaction.” His comment underscores a fundamentally elitist misunderstanding of the needs of our community under the mantle of attracting a major league soccer team to Miami. Such a notion of status is not the central issue to define this issue, nor is Michael Putney’s recent assertion that soccer legend David Beckham strikes him as a “regular guy” as a rationalization for deference. The stadium – in the last open space in downtown Miami – is wrong because it insults any sense of smart urban design in contemporary times by deferring to a soccer legend as a front man for financial backers. How dumb can we be – again?

The UEL strongly condemns the action by City and County Mayors in strong-arming a hastily drawn plan to wall off more of our long forlorn downtown waterfront against residents in favor of a Major League Soccer stadium. While some of the arguments in favor of the stadium in the FEC slip strike us as old and tired, it is important that we remember what we have experienced – and forgotten – in the recent history of attempts by sports corporations to “take” our rare public waterfront through complex formulas that disguise the theft of public space for private interests. The UEL believes that the public is, finally, tired of these games and will show their anger to public officials over the coming months in a variety of ways.

One argument that the Beckham forces have used is that nothing has been happening in Bicentennial Park and Parcel B? It’s dead space. Altschuler notes: “There are no places for people to gather. There is no place to have an ice cream with your child. There is no place to have a glass of wine and enjoy the view. It is a skeleton park. Not a fully fleshed out, robust park.” Well hello, we have been through that argument before. People do have memories. Public officials have failed to follow through in making the park a secure and attractive place.

In 2000, the argument against the Marlins was “Bums or Baseball” which was equally fallacious because over so many years- public waterfront parks have been set up for failure by conscious neglect by public officials.
Well why is that and what does it mean now? Parks need funding and long tem planning for security, maintenance and amenities. That has seldom happened in this city with any continuity.

Another argument advanced is that the new Beckham plan will provide more park land for the public? Those figures are fallacious. At least 2.7 acres were previously pledged to be parkland and never delivered after the 1996 referendum. Four acres will be taken away from Bicentennial Park for the stadium. Taxpayers have already paid millions to improve the “new found land” in the slip. The cost of each acre of land could be valued at $17 million or more if sold in the open market. What a gift to the rich!

It is clear is that urban density and traffic will become far more intense in an area of Miami that is so often gridlocked- even NOW. And there is no parking included in the hastily promoted design.

The stadium is projected to be 100 feet high and will clearly block views of the water, obscured by the deceptively alluring architectural renderings that have been so widely dispensed by the largely compliant press.

Ultimately, the UEL condemns the recurrent rapidity of decision making. Last minute deals, the deference paid by local officials to private sports entrepreneurs – just like 1996 – when today public assets (libraries, parks) so often go neglected.

After the 1996 referendum on the Arena, Parcel B (2.7 acre open space on the waterfront), a central element in selling the stadium to the public (according to the Heat’s own PR guru Michael Murphy (2004), was quickly changed by the county commission to allow various commercial interests. The public had been deceived.

Overall, the local press, with few exceptions, has been embarrassing and irresponsible in its fawning deference to this soccer star embracing Miami as his new town. We’ve heard that before.
Many questions need to be asked by the public in a more organized manner. The UEL demands a better public process – hopefully championed by local elected officials – so that what happened in relation to the Marlin’s attempt to get cheap waterfront land for their stadium will not be revisited. We should not be fooled again.
Miami faces another defining moment in its history. It not only relates to the stupidity of walling off our waterfront, the insane density being proposed, and endlessly rearranging what passes for public space today. It also concerns another example of a rushed deal- thrown at the public through a compliant press that echoes Beckham saying “take our demands and do it quickly or we wont play in your town.” Sounds like a spoiled child to us. Quality public government must rely on thoughtful and transparent planning processes. That’s central to this issue.

To conclude, the UEL calls for public officials to speak out for our public waterfront, not the quickly drawn scheme before us. We call for a variety of public protests, organization of effort by many groups, and we seek a better process to forge alternative modes of activating our waterfront and the connectivity needed for all our people. Stop this prvaization of public space.

We also need to remember that this struggle is not simply about the needs of any one group of real estate interests but, like other cities with vibrant waterfronts, it should involve the larger decision making process and the imperative need to enhance our public waterfront through coherent and transparent public planning.

Beckham’s Stadium Does Not Have to Be on Miami’s Waterfront No Matter What they Demand; We Should Enhance Our Public Waterfront

Preserve public waterfront open space

Who wouldn’t want a waterfront site for their stadium or for a Cuban Exile History Museum?

John Henry of the Marlins surely did back in 2000 when he spent millions trying to secure space for a stadium in Bicentennial Park. Yet led, in part, by the Urban Environment League, multiple forces coalesced to stop his powerful and expensive lobbying team, stimulating a unique public design process that eventually saw two museums being placed in the park.

A real park was also supposed to be part of the plan — but that has yet to materialize after more than a dozen years of

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inattention. Then, after endless negotiations, public officials finally made a very bad deal to pay billions for the Marlins Stadium — though thankfully not on the waterfront. Can’t we do better this time and stop obsessing about taking even more waterfront space for a stadium or another museum at more unknown costs to the public? Sometimes it seems we are reliving an old story in a region whose memory is so notoriously weak.

Some considerations in this debate:

• Public open space has long been particularly vulnerable on Miami’s waterfront. Miami has among the least amount of park space per capita of any major high-density city in the country. Politicians have promised to expand waterfront park space time and again in the past, but when have they delivered in recent decades? Parcel B? Bicentennial Park after 1976? What has happened to the funds to buy other waterfront land derived from a portion of the profits from Bayside — as prescribed in city and state legislation?

Impact fees are inadequately collected for new park space even though the downtown area desperately needs new parks as one hears from the recently created Downtown Neighborhood Association representing more than 27,000 new residents.

• Soccer will only play 25 games a year in a soccer facility, yet how would investors make money out such a stadium in the FEC slip? Clearly big profits are central to their plans.

• What happened to the idea of smaller ships in the slip or tall ships that could bring people to the waterfront? Do we live on a real waterfront for residents and tourists or a stage set/theme park in today’s news? Other great cities around the world cherish and expand their waterfront parks; Miami generally has event spaces with little regard to human-scale relationships to the natural world.

• A critical problem in assessing our waterfront involves the jurisdictional complexity of these waterfront spaces — leading to public cynicism. The slip is city property; Parcel B is county property subject to city zoning regulations; the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve and the Shoreline Review Committee also have jurisdiction — and more. Public understanding of these complex issues remains minimal. The Florida Inland Navigation District — public tax money — provided millions to upgrade the seawall of the slip and Parcel B in the last few years. Was that money totally wasted?

• From an urban-design perspective, this site would block even more views of the waterfront for local residents and the public unless one walks along the nonexistent baywalk — originally promised to residents back in 2001. That’s aside from the height and noise of a stadium.

• Above all else, the question of density including traffic congestion should remain paramount in the discussion. Even now projects in the downtown area and Biscayne Boulevard more generally are driving residents, commuters and others crazy — before new buildings come online. Traffic studies have, quite obviously, become even more of a fraudulent inside joke.

• Other sites for both the soccer stadium and the Cuban Exile History Museum have been inadequately examined with public input. Maybe the port site works, or doesn’t, but David Beckham and local politicians should certainly look at other sites.

• Above all, we should not be rushed by private interests in this media frenzy but demand an orderly public process in which a clear set of criteria to preserve public waterfront open space remains paramount. Public debates should include new

ideas in a thoughtful urban design process. What a concept!

Gregory Bush is the director of the Institute for Public History at the University of Miami.

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