In response to an “ugly” backlash, Coral Gables billionaire Mike Fernandez is launching a public campaign seeking support to wave a massive American flag in downtown Miami atop the nation’s tallest flagpole.
Fernandez, a major GOP donor, has created a website promoting his “Flag of Gratitude,” and established a foundation to support his idea. He says he’s willing to finance up to $10 million to build the flagpole and hoist the U.S. flag, but needs public support to place the structure at his preferred site on the southeast corner of Miami’s Museum Park.
On Wednesday, Fernandez unveiled a promotional video to trustees of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and made his case directly to a crowd that included business boosters and several Miami commissioners. He said he’s growing more vocal after receiving hundreds of critical emails when his proposal was first reported two months ago in the Miami Herald.
“This is an iconic symbol of who we are, and where we have been, and where we are going,” Fernandez said at the Jungle Island luncheon, also attended by Sen. Bill Nelson and military veterans. “We’re not asking for one penny. We’re just asking for your support.”
Fernandez began quietly pitching the idea of erecting a 425-foot flagpole downtown to Miami officials this summer. An army veteran himself, Fernandez says he wants to erect the pole and a 16,000-square-foot flag as a symbol of his gratitude to the country that gave him so much opportunity after he came to the U.S. as a penniless Cuban immigrant.
Fernandez, 62, is asking supporters to sign a petition supporting his cause, which would need approval from the Miami Commission in order for the flag to be located in about 1,000 square feet of Museum Park. He compared the flag to the Statue of Liberty, and insisted that critics remain a small minority.
“Our flag needs a home,” he said. “I would like for Miami to accept it.”
Miami Commissioners Francis Suarez and Frank Carollo, chairman of the Bayfront Park Management Trust, which oversees Museum Park, were both in attendance Wednesday. Fernandez has held several discussions with city officials and engineers, but said there hasn’t been any movement since he met with Suarez and Miami’s city manager several weeks ago at the park.
He says Miami Beach officials have been receptive if Miami isn’t interested.
Fernandez said he has hired a law firm to submit the necessary permit applications to erect the structure, which in size is more like a wind turbine than a pole. He also said the Flag of Gratitude Foundation, led by former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning and former Herald publisher David Lawrence Jr., is raising money to fund what would likely be $300,000 a year in maintenance costs.
Fernandez could have snagged one major supporter Wednesday. But while Sen. Nelson was unequivocal in his support of the U.S. flag, the Democrat declined to endorse Fernandez’s flag idea.
“That’s a decision for the city to make,” he said.