Billionaire pitching massive U.S. flag 400 feet over downtown Miami

08/06/2014 11:34 AM

08/09/2014 5:18 PM

A Coral Gables billionaire wants to hoist a 500-pound American flag atop a massive, 40-story flagpole over downtown Miami.

Mike Fernandez, chairman of the Gables-based MBF Healthcare Partners, toured several Miami sites Wednesday afternoon with a city commissioner and Miami’s city manager in order to discuss possible locations for the tallest flagpole in the country. They planned to visit the point where Bayfront Park meets the InterContinental Miami, the north corner of the FEC slip near the AmericanAirlines Arena, and Virginia Key, with Fernandez’s preferred site somewhere between the arena and the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

“It’s a gift that I’d like to consider giving to our country and to our city,” Fernandez told The Herald.

Fernandez, a major donor to Republican candidates and the former chief fundraiser for Gov. Rick Scott, has been mulling a way to pay homage to the United States for years. He came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1964 as a penniless child and made his fortune in healthcare. He says the idea is “very preliminary,” but he began to consider flying a massive flag over downtown after watching a video of the Wisconsin-based insurer Acuity building a 400-foot tall flagpole on its Sheboygan campus.

The Sheboygan flagpole, which in circumference is more comparable to a wind turbine, is billed as the tallest in the U.S and has a veterans memorial at its base. The flag hoisted on the pole is itself 60 feet by 120 feet long and four stories tall. It was dedicated by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in June.

“I started to chat with my wife and I said it would be a wonderful idea as a sign of gratitude for many of us who weren’t born in this country to do it in Miami,” said Fernandez. “Except maybe we can do it a little bigger in Miami.”

Fernandez said he expects the price to range between $5 million and $10 million, and has been in contact with the contractors that worked for Acuity, as well as the CEO of the company, which struggled to erect a structurally sound pole in its first attempts. Fernandez said he would foot the bill if the project does move forward, and the city’s only contribution might be a plot of about 1,000 square feet needed to establish a deep base to keep the pole stable while bearing a flag with stars the size of three people.

Commissioner Francis Suarez said he broached the idea of a tour with City Manager Daniel Alfonso after talking with Fernandez. He said it’s an idea worth exploring, and would need to be vetted by the commission and community if it’s something the city and Fernandez want to ultimately pursue.

“It’s kind of a symbol to the world that Hispanic Americans, we’re not just proud of our Cuban heritage, but we’re also proud of our American heritage,” Suarez said. “Sometimes, what gets lost in our discussion as Miamians is that we’re grateful to this country that allowed us to enter and become prosperous in all facets of community life.”

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