Coral Gables healthcare mogul Mike Fernandez has resurrected efforts to fly a massive American flag some 40 stories above downtown Miami — a city he recently ripped for its “petty” and “dirty” politics.
Last week, to her surprise, Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez received an email from a lawyer representing Fernandez in his quest to build the nation’s tallest flag pole in Museum Park as a tribute to U.S. veterans. At 425 feet tall and 14 feet in diameter, the pole would cost $10 million and hoist flags larger than 10,000 square feet to its peak.
Fernandez needs the city commission’s permission to build the structure on public land. So on March 5, Fernandez’s attorney, John Shubin, forwarded an email chain from October in which he submitted a written proposal to the city for what Fernandez calls The Flag of Gratitude.
“Based on much interest and support from the community, Mike Fernandez wishes to continue to see what steps are necessary for the City to accept his donation of an iconic American flag,” Shubin wrote, noting that “there had not been any follow up to the email thread from late October.”
The last email in that chain was dated Oct. 29. The following day, Fernandez told the Miami Herald during a phone interview that he was likely giving up his quest to erect the flag in Miami after some city officials tried to shake him down.
“Someone said to me, ‘if you hire someone I know, that can make it easier.’ To me, that’s plain dirty politics. Others said, ‘if you could help me politically I can support you.’ To me, that’s blackmail and illegal,” Fernandez, who declined to name names, said at the time. “I’m just floored as to how the game is played.”
All city officials who spoke to the Herald have denied requesting any quid pro quo. But Fernandez, a prominent Republican booster who recently published a book about his rags-to-riches life story, said in October that he might turn to Miami Beach for a home.
“We thought the project had been abandoned in the city of Miami,” Méndez wrote back to Shubin.
Later that day, Fernandez responded: “Was there any formal communication indicating I wanted to drop the matter?”
If it’s built, the Museum Park structure would be funded with private money, according to Fernandez, who created a foundation to fund the operation and maintenance of the structure. To build the project, Fernandez had consulted U.S. Flag & Flagpole Supply, the world’s largest manufacturer of “monster flagpoles,” and Arsene Professional Engineers, which worked on the world’s tallest flag pole in Saudi Arabia.
Fernandez said he wanted to build the structure as a way to give back to South Florida, the community where he landed and grew his fortune after his family fled Cuba. Some city officials, however, questioned whether Museum Park was the appropriate site, and whether the city would end up paying for operations and long-term maintenance.
Méndez, after confirming that Fernandez was indeed still interested in working with the city, said she’d follow up.