Just weeks after lending her celebrity and reputation to help promote a plan to restore the Miami Marine Stadium site, pop icon Gloria Estefan blasted the group behind the project Wednesday, saying she was kept in the dark about crucial and controversial details of what turned out to be a far larger proposal.
The $121million restoration and redevelopment plan ultimately proposed by the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium went down in flames before the Miami City Commission last month. Key in that defeat: some $90million in privately financed commercial development around the stadium and the inclusion of two Friends leaders as architects, details that emerged only days before the vote and after a celebratory press conference featuring Estefan.
Now Estefan, who for months had been the face of stadium restoration efforts, says she had no knowledge of the plan last month beyond announcing on Nov.13 a new agreement to bring the massive Miami International Boat Show to the site as a crucial anchor tenant.
“As the public face and spokesperson for the restoration of the Miami Marine Stadium, I feel that my credibility and reputation have been put into question merely by my presumed association with the plan presented by” Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, she wrote in a letter to Mayor Tomás Regalado and city commissioners. “I had absolutely NO prior knowledge of the expansive plan that [Friends] ultimately presented to the Commission” on Nov.20, she added.
Estefan’s letter, and a second one sent Wednesday by the head of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, further undermined the credibility of the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, which has been credited with saving the shuttered waterfront stadium from demolition and for years has served as the leader in efforts to restore the historic structure.
The group, hoping to secure a potential 98-year lease, sought commission approval last month for a $30million restoration of the stadium, but also for the development of a 125,000-square-foot expo center, plus dry boat storage and a multi-purpose park on two dozen acres on Virginia Key.
The nonprofit’s board voted on the proposal in early November, and plans for supporting commercial development like an expo center had been previously considered.
But administrators and elected officials say they weren’t presented with the full scope of the project until after they and Estefan attended the press conference at Marine Stadium to announce a push for a long-term lease.
Now, the Friends group has gone from likely master developer to potential bit player after the commission rejected its redevelopment plan and moved to negotiate directly with the boat show.
Those talks intensified Wednesday, as city administrators met with boat show representatives to discuss coordinating the event, which would be held in February of 2016. Millions of dollars would need to be invested into the site. A new proposal to keep the boat show on Virginia Key and restore the stadium is expected to be presented to commissioners on Jan.8.
“I think they’re satisfied with the meeting today, the logistics and the way it’s set up,” Regalado said. “The city is ready to start working very early next year, if we agree.”
Regalado and Deputy City Manager Alice Bravo said the boat show has been the priority and there haven’t been any talks to this point about restoring the stadium or whether the Friends group would continue to be involved. Regalado, however, said he continues to believe the stadium’s original architect, Hilario Candela, and Friends co-founder and partner Jorge Hernandez should remain involved in talks, despite criticisms of attempted “self-dealing.”
“Bad faith and self dealing? We were just trying to restore this building for the community,” Hernandez said Wednesday, making clear he respects Estefan and wasn’t criticizing her. “Unfortunately, my intentions have been mischaracterized.”
Hernandez noted that Estefan remains supportive of restoring the stadium, and said he and Candela will as well. But their attempt to redevelop the Virginia Key site splintered their non-profit and hurt their reputation publicly. Reached Wednesday, Friends co-founder Don Worth, who was quietly against the plan presented last month to the commission, stressed that the stadium, thanks largely to the National Trust and Estefan, has far more support and recognition than ever before.
But he said he’s not sure how or whether Friends of Miami Marine Stadium will continue on.
“I really apologize not only to Gloria but also to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and all the other groups who supported so strongly the restoration of the Marine Stadium for what was an ill-advised move,” Worth said. “It’s extremely unfortunate that seven years of very hard work and very successful interests on so many fronts has come down to this. Our credibility has taken an enormous hit, deservedly. I don’t know if this group [even if] reformulated can recover from it.”