Local businessman Mike Fernandez says he has all but given up on his dream of erecting a massive American flag more than 40 stories above downtown Miami after learning tough lessons about “dirty politics” in the Magic City.
Fernandez hoped to place a 425-foot flagpole at his expense in the southeast corner of Museum Park as a tribute to U.S. veterans, and needed the city’s permission to proceed with the $10million project on public land. But after face-to-face meetings with several elected officials, he said he was “flabbergasted” by the way he was treated and may look to South Beach as a potential home for his “flag of gratitude.”
“Someone said to me, ‘if you hire someone I know, that can make it easier.’ To me, that’s plain dirty politics. Others said ‘if you could help me politically I can support you.’ To me, that’s blackmail and illegal,” said Fernandez, who declined to name names. “I’m just floored as to how the game is played.”
Commissioners reached Thursday said they either didn’t meet with Fernandez or denied asking for favors. Francis Suarez, who supported Fernandez in his efforts from the beginning, said he was troubled by the accusations.
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“If it’s true, that’s very sad that someone of his caliber would be shied away from working with the city on that basis,” Suarez said. “It’s concerning when groups like David Beckham’s [soccer stadium] group and people like him seem to be pushed away by what they perceive to be a dysfunctional political leadership.”
Mayor Tomás Regalado did not respond to a voice mail and text message to his cellphone.
Fernandez began efforts to build the flag pole this summer as a sign of gratitude to the country and a memorial to fallen veterans. He toured several locations with Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso, and decided on Museum Park as his favorite spot to fly a 16,000-square-foot U.S. flag. He promised to pay the price of construction, and established a foundation with the help of Miami Heat executive Alonzo Mourning and former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence Jr. to raise money to fund the maintenance of the flagpole.
Fernandez also created a website to publicize his project after receiving some initial criticism. But he apparently didn’t win support from a majority of the Miami commission.
Fernandez, a deep-pocketed healthcare tycoon who once served as the fundraising chair for Gov. Rick Scott’s reelection campaign, said that along with being hit up for financial favors, he was also told to seek a public referendum for his privately financed project.
Suarez said he hopes Fernandez will still be able to work something out in Miami. But Fernandez said that’s very unlikely, particularly after publicly blasting politics in the city.
“To me, it is greatly disappointing that some people can be as petty as they are. It is unbelievable,” he said. “I’m so happy I don’t do business in the city of Miami, and my hats off to those people who do.”