Miami-Dade County

Miami breaks promise to open waterfront park after boat show

Miami officials promised to roll astro turf over the eastern portion of the Marine Stadium campus by March 17. This picture, taken March 24, shows the area as parking for the Miami Open.
Miami officials promised to roll astro turf over the eastern portion of the Marine Stadium campus by March 17. This picture, taken March 24, shows the area as parking for the Miami Open. David Smiley

When city of Miami officials hurriedly embarked on an expensive project last year to create a new home on Virginia Key for the Miami International Boat Show, part of their sales pitch to the public was that for much of the year the 15-acre venue would be converted into a park.

They released images of soccer fields east of the Miami Marine Stadium and displayed a sample of synthetic grass at City Hall. They even inserted language into their agreement with the boat show that they’d cover a portion of the $24 million venue in artificial turf and open it to the public within 31 days of the conclusion of the massive marine industry trade show.

But 31 days came and went on March 17 with nary a blade of fake grass or soccer ball in sight. As of Thursday, the venue was reserved for Miami Open tennis tournament parking.

“We’re right now working on a plan to ask the city commission to do something different,” City Manager Daniel Alfonso said when asked to explain the missed deadline. “Originally there was a plan to cover the entire area with Astroturf. We believe there’s value in leaving some of the area as parking.”

Alfonso said the change in plans has much to do with the rushed job that went into planning the outdoor exhibition space in order to construct and open it in time for the boat show. He said the city is working to come up with a more functional design.

But the administration’s failure to make good on its promise has irked at least one city commissioner, and fueled skepticism from watchdog groups that believe the city has planned all along to use its new venue to host money-making events year-round.

You can’t do a bait and switch.

Commissioner Francis Suarez

“We have to do what we say,” said Commissioner Francis Suarez. “You can’t do a bait and switch.”

Suarez noted that during the multiple public hearings held to approve the financing and agreements needed to build the space, Miami administrators referred to it as a “flex park.” While plans called for the city to repave the vast area and install drainage and electrical fields, they also called for $2.5 million in artificial turf — enough to cover about seven acres and create an athletic complex.

In April, when it became clear the cost of the project was growing and that the boat show needed more time to set up and break down, city commissioners voted to amend their agreement with the boat show on the condition that the city place in writing that the playing fields would open this month.

The fact that didn’t happen is frustrating but not surprising, said Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay, whose government has sued Miami to stop its use of the event venue. Lindsay pointed out that Mayor Tomás Regalado recently announced intentions to steer all money raised by hosting events at the Virginia Key exhibition area toward the renovation of the historic but abandoned Marine Stadium. The city hasn’t yet booked any new events, but acknowledges that planners have made inquiries about the site.

“I really want a thoughtful resolution to all of this,” she said. “But I feel like to a certain extent we've become babysitters because they don’t do as they say they're going to do.”

We still have some concerns about the park.

City Manager Daniel Alfonso

Alfonso said the city still plans to turn part of the campus into park and recreation space, and said part of the reason administrators are waiting to move is because they want to vet their plans with a newly established committee tasked with reviewing all things on Virginia Key. He said he’s concerned that people will view their slow action as a broken promise, but that’s not the case.

“I’m concerned about that,” he said. “But we still have some concerns about the park.”