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Quick ruling sought in Crandon Park tennis-center lawsuit

 

crabin@MiamiHerald.com

The three entities involved in a lawsuit aimed at overturning a November 2012 referendum that approved the expansion of the tennis center at Crandon Park went to court Wednesday to try to end the proceeding before it goes to trial.

When voters overwhelmingly supported a Miami-Dade County plan to build new tennis facilities and modify the lease agreement with organizers of the Sony Open, one of the world’s most popular tennis tournaments, Bruce Matheson filed a lawsuit to stop the vote.

The ballot initiative passed with 72 percent of the vote.

Matheson, a member of the South Florida pioneering family that donated the land to the county as a park more than 70 years ago, believes the wording of the ballot measure misled the public because it was inaccurate, didn’t mention the county was turning over management of the property to the tournament organizer, and because it failed to include lease terms.

Matheson believes the county reneged on an agreement his family reached with the county two decades ago. The sides agreed then that no permanent structures would be built on property donated by the family as park land.

All three sides in the current dispute — Matheson, the county, and tournament organizer International Players Championship Inc. — are asking a judge for a summary judgment in the case before it goes to trial.

Wednesday, Matheson argued to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marc Schumacher that the law is on his side.

Matheson’s attorney, Enrique Arana, called the 2012 ballot language inaccurate, saying it failed to mention the county was turning over management of the property to the tournament organizer and it failed to explain the terms of the lease.

“The ballot language didn’t disclose terms of an agreement,” said Arana. “It couldn’t, because they didn’t exist.”

Arana also said voters were never made aware of a new, 30-year lease agreement between the county and the event manager, and that the county is now required to spend $1 million a year for the next 14 years on capital improvements at the site. Through a complicated formula, the county could also be on the hook for as much as $8.25 million for remediation costs.

The 75-word ballot question asked voters to approve new, permanent structures and an expansion at the public park and tennis center. Money would come only from tournament revenue and private donations. Voters were also asked to approve a modification and extension of the agreement with the tournament organizer or its successor. It referred to a past resolution adopted by Miami-Dade County commissioners that gave terms of the lease.

Wednesday’s hour-long hearing, ended before County Attorney Oren Rosenthal and IPC attorney Gene Stearns could make their arguments. The hearing is scheduled to continue Thursday.

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