This article was updated 4:10 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017:
According to the official website for the city of Miami Beach, “Flamingo Park’s handball/racquetball courts are one of the oldest and well-maintained in the country.”
Half this statement is true.
“I’ve been coming to Flamingo Park and playing handball here for over 40 years,” say Dan Howard of Miami Beach. “It’s just not playable anymore.”
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For the last 65-plus years, Flamingo Park in Miami Beach has been one of the most iconic and pleasurable locations in South Beach. Much of the park has been beautifully renovated and carefully landscaped.
In 2002, the Aquatic Center reopened, followed by a giant playground in 2005. In 2013, a brand-new football field with artificial turf and a state-of-the-art drainage system was completed. Surrounding the football field is a new track. That same year, the Flamingo Park Tennis Center was renovated with 17 courts, new lighting, landscaping and irrigation and drainage system. Even the basketball courts got a complete makeover earlier this year with brand new surfaces and basketball hoops.
Not the handball/racquetball courts.
In January 2016, the Miami Herald reported on the courts’ deteriorating conditions and how the city might spend an estimated $200,000 ($50,000 per court) to make room for a little-known game called pádel, a sport that blends elements of tennis and squash on a court one-third the size of a tennis court.
Nearly two years later, there are no longer plans to add pádel to the park. There have been no improvements made on the handball courts, and they are looking as squalid as ever. They are littered with all sorts of trash and even feces. Howard says he has also seen a few dead rodents on the courts and outside.
The courts have massive cracks and holes, and are strewn with piles of leaves, branches and newspapers from months ago.
“I’ve seen these courts getting worse and worse over the years,” said Juliano Quintana, a 15-year veteran of handball and racquetball at Flamingo Park. “It’s a shame, because the rest of the park is so beautiful.”
As far back as 2013, a Yelp reviewer from Washington, D.C., posted on the website:
“The racquetball and handball courts are open-air bathrooms for homeless people and more useless than a Kardashian.”
City Manager Jimmy Morales sent a letter to Mayor Philip Levine and commissioners on Friday saying “the courts are maintained by City staff on a daily basis, multiple times throughout the day.”
“During these visits, staff members empty out trash bins and replace liners, pick up litter, use blowers to remove organic material and pooled water, sanitize areas, etc.,” Morales continued. “The courts are also on a pressure washing rotation every two to three weeks. The notion that the courts are neglected by staff is further negated by the fact that the enclosed design of the facility provides a secluded environment that attracts undesirable activity, at times of an illicit nature, which requires maintenance staff and Park Rangers to routinely monitor the site throughout their shifts.”
On Wednesday, commissioners will consider authorizing Morales to negotiate a contract with a firm to fix up the handball courts, including electrical upgrades, the addition of sports lighting, new general lighting, stucco repairs, court resurfacing, new frameless windows and doors, and new fencing and painting.
The city estimates the necessary improvements will cost $886,000. Three bidders on the project exceed the city’s estimates, so Morales is recommending the city negotiate with the lowest bidder.
After discussions over a plan the demolish some of the courts in spring 2016, the commission directed the administration to keep all existing courts and renovate them. Because the city had to go back to the drawing board and completely redesign the project and get approval from city land use boards, the renovations have been delayed by two years.
On Thursday, officials told the Herald if negotiations are successful, construction should start in about three months.
One day recently, Howard bounced his handball before slapping it furiously against the court wall. As the ball hits a crack, it sputters in the opposite direction into a puddle of dark water.
Howard shakes his head, picks up the ball and wipes it on his pants.
“It’s a shame,” he said. “Coming to Flamingo Park and playing handball is one of those experiences that truly connects us locals who grew up here. And it’s been slowly dying in front of us.”
Herald staff writer Joey Flechas contributed to this report.
If you go
▪ What: Miami Beach commission meeting
▪ When: 8:30 a.m. Wednesday
▪ Where: Miami Beach City Hall, 1700 Convention Center Dr.
▪ Information: www.miamibeachfl.gov