The latest chapter in the effort to revitalize the forlorn Miami Marine Stadium began smoothly last week, like the surface of the stadium basin water.
Representatives of the Miami International Boat Show announced they were moving the massive tourist event to the Virginia Key stadium, where they would be an anchor tenant in a long-term, restoration-enabling lease. South Florida’s “first lady” and former pop star Gloria Estefan flew in from New York and arrived that Thursday aboard an 84-foot yacht with Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado for a celebratory press conference. And three of the five Miami city commissioners — enough to carry a deal — stood on stage for the celebration of the stadium’s return.
All that was left was a vote by the Miami City Commission to formally begin negotiations for a lease to begin a restoration of the stadium and development of 22 surrounding acres. But one week later, after the details of a proposal for a $121 million complex emerged, preservationists with the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium and their for-profit partners have hit choppy waters.
Administrators are asking questions about financial projections in the proposal that have the city earning $150 million without contributing a cent. Citizen groups are taking positions of concern, arguing that the deal is progressing too quickly. And some Miami commissioners now say last week’s event felt like a premature party for a deal that is far from done.
“Why do this press conference and then release all this information after the fact?” said Commissioner Francis Suarez, who did not attend the event. “It creates suspicion and it breeds a little mistrust, even though I think the board members are good people and well-meaning and well-intentioned.”
In the face of some opposition, the Friends group is rallying supporters to the Thursday commission meeting for a 3 p.m. hearing. The Estefans and preservation leaders will be there to testify on behalf of the deal.
“In all of this, I see room for a very positive outcome,” said Friends co-founder Don Worth, who declined to discuss issues with the renovation proposal.
But even if commissioners approve negotiations Thursday, getting a deal done appears to be a more difficult endeavor than just one week ago. Part of that is due to the inclusion of the 125,000-square-foot expo center, 280-slip dry-dock facilities and multi-purpose park, and a local company helping to finance the project. The expo center alone is estimated to bring in $6 million in net revenues each year, and some commissioners are asking questions now about the commercial nature of the proposal and about TPA/EXPO, the proposed group financing construction and operating the facilities.
Friends, in response, has asked an outside firm to audit its numbers. They also say that controversial businessman Manuel Alonso-Poch, who created EXPO-Miami, is no longer a part of their team. But records show the company’s CFO, Federico Coupe, filed for chapter 13 bankruptcy in October, an issue first reported by the Daily Business Review.
Meanwhile, the Urban Environment League has asked commissioners to stave off a vote to avoid a rushed deal and protested the inclusion of an expo center in an area they said was envisioned for public use. Environmentalists have also cautioned about the amount of development in a sensitive area.
Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff attended last week’s event and called Friends “a very incredible group of people who are now going to come to fruition with a very very incredible plan.” But by Wednesday, his enthusiasm had waned.
“The devil is in the details,” said Sarnoff, “and I haven’t seen details that make me comfortable.”