From Skybox to Stateroom:
The Power Behind the Construction of Miami’s American Airlines Arena
By Gregory W. Bush
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)
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
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