Billionaire pinpoints Museum Park as favored flagpole site

08/22/2014 7:43 PM

08/22/2014 9:00 PM

A Coral Gables healthcare tycoon with a plan to put a massive American flag atop the country’s tallest flagpole has picked a spot in downtown Miami’s newest park. And if the city doesn’t want it, he says there are at least a half-dozen others glad to take it.

Including, perhaps, Miami Beach.

Mike Fernandez met again Friday with Miami officials to talk about building a flagpole that, at 425 feet tall and 14 feet in diameter, would be the tallest in the U.S. He plans to spend up to $10 million on its construction, but needs the Miami Commission to sign off on the project because it’s on city land.

Fernandez several weeks ago toured several sites with City Manager Daniel Alfonso and Commissioner Francis Suarez. He has settled on the southeast corner of Museum Park as his desired location, and this time he brought three engineers with him to the meeting.

“If the city wants it and the politicians allow it, we’ll do it,” Fernandez told Alfonso and Suarez. “If not, there are ample cities that want to provide a place for it.”

Fernandez, who became inspired after learning that a Sheboygan-based insurer had erected a 400-foot pole and American flag at its headquarters, calls the flagpole a “gift” of patriotism to the country. Standing near the park’s seawall, he talked about the location’s visibility to cruising tourists from the port and visitors of the new Pérez Art Museum Miami. Suarez envisioned fireworks bursting overhead on the Fourth of July.

But the idea has its critics, including those who say a massive flag would make Miami’s newly minted park look like a car dealership.

David Pina, who lives on the 41st floor of Marquis Miami across from the park, said he could see the Fernandez meeting taking place from his condo. Pina, who is vice president of the Downtown Neighbors Alliance, said the organization hasn’t taken a position on the proposal. He isn’t offended aesthetically, but he thinks the city can find better ways to embellish Museum Park or show patriotism.

“A flagpole wouldn’t be on the top of my list,” he said.

Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who represents the area, isn’t sold either.

“It’s never a bad idea to discuss the American flag. So the discussion is a good idea,” he said. “I’m talking about the size may be disproportionate and the location may not be the right place.”

On Friday, Tom Jordan, the owner of U.S. Flag, the world’s largest manufacturer of “monster flagpoles,” said downtown residents concerned about how the flag would affect their view shouldn’t be concerned because the banner would appear “minute” from a distance. Engineer Florin Arsene, who worked on the Sheboygan project, said hurricane force winds are a concern but aren’t insurmountable.

The engineers want to meet again with city administrators to talk about planning the project. Suarez asked that views be prepared of what the flagpole and flag would look like, to take to the City Commission for a discussion once all the information is ready, including potential maintenance costs for the city.

If Miami doesn’t want Fernandez’s gift, he cordially said there are others who have contacted him because they do, including a few cities on the state’s west coast and another in Central Florida. He said he was also contacted by Miami Beach officials, and has scheduled a meeting between City Manager Jimmy Morales and his engineers Saturday morning.

“I have a flag that wants a home,” Fernandez said. “Who wants it?”

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