In a sudden turnabout, the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce on Thursday will reconsider Baptist Health’s bid to join the business group, after rejecting the application last week.
According to an email sent from chamber CEO Jerry Libbin to the full board of about 70 members late Friday night, Chairman Michael Goldberg called for the meeting to be held at 5 p.m Thursday.
The initial rejection surprised some in the community, and it drew the ire of Mayor Philip Levine, who told the Miami Herald he called chamber officials demanding they reconsider.
“I expressed embarrassment and disappointment over the blemish that this puts on our city by excluding a respected company like Baptist,” he said Friday. “That makes me not want to support the chamber.”
On Saturday, Libbin said Baptist had notified the chamber it still wanted to join, and Goldberg felt it would be better to meet again next week to reconsider. Normally, the board waits a month before reviewing a denied application. Libbin did not comment on his conversation with Levine.
“Given the focus on this between the media and the conversations around this, the chairman decided it would be better to just move it forward and not wait for a month,” Libbin said.
Roymi Membiela, corporate vice president and chief marketing officer for Baptist, said officials felt the company’s application should be considered again.
“Our interest and commitment to join the chamber remains solid, and we consider that our application should stand on its own merit,” she said. “We have spoken to Mayor Levine about this, and he agrees that the chamber needs to reevaluate its decision without our involvement.”
The vote to not approve Baptist’s application came from the chamber’s 20-member executive board on March 3. That same day, the board heard remarks from Mount Sinai Medical Center CEO Steven Sonenreich. Chamber officials and Sonenreich won’t comment on specifics of what was discussed at the closed meeting.
Baptist officials declined an invitation to speak at the March 3 meeting. In an email sent that morning, Baptist Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer George Foyo told Libbin he didn’t think Baptist’s presence would help.
“We don’t believe it would be constructive to participate in a forum at which you have informed us that Mount Sinai Medical Center plans to send a representative to speak against our application for Chamber membership,” Foyo wrote.
As the drama unfolded, the South Beach-based Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce quietly reached out to Foyo and invited Baptist to join as a corporate member. “They’re joining,” gay chamber President Steve Adkins said Monday. “I got a confirmation email this morning.”
Baptist intends to open an urgent-care center at a proposed development on Alton Road at Seventh Street. That development, which would also include medical offices, a diagnostic center, and an outpatient surgery facility, still needs planning board approval before moving forward.
It has stalled while planning board members asked the City Commission to fund an impact study that would examine the effects the center would have on the neighborhood, including traffic. Sonenreich and a Mount Sinai lobbyist spoke before the board in January to outline concerns over neighborhood impact.
The City Commission did not act on that request. Commissioners made it clear they didn’t want to set a precedent and that they believed the matter belongs to the planning board. The planning board will look at the project again at its meeting on March 24.
Despite the appearance of a turf war, Sonenreich has insisted he’s not worried about more competition in the Beach and maintained his concern is over the project’s neighborhood impact.
Stuart Blumberg, a past chamber board chairman and founder of its Pillar Trustees Board, said Saturday he hopes the full board will openly discuss what was said at the executive board closed session where the application was denied.
“My question would be, ‘What took place in that room that would not qualify a quality company like Baptist to join?’” he said. “As a past chair, I’m embarrassed.”
Levine has asked for a discussion on the city’s relationship with the chamber at Wednesday’s City Commission meeting.