Miami-Dade County

Miami Open officially loses appeal over expansion plans at Crandon Park

File photo of the Miami Open tennis tournament at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne
File photo of the Miami Open tennis tournament at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne El Nuevo Herald

County rules preventing the Miami Open tennis tournament’s expansion plans officially survived a legal challenge on Tuesday, ending a long-shot appeal that the tournament had already signaled it wasn’t expecting to win.

The Third District Court of Appeal in Miami declined to revisit a ruling that it had already issued against tournament owner International Players Championship in the company’s fight to win county approval of a $50 million privately funded expansion of its yearly home at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne. A special set of Crandon rules tied to the land’s transfer from the Matheson family prevent the construction of new facilities for the for-profit entity, and IPC sued to overturn them.

In December, the Third DCA upheld a lower-court ruling that sided with Miami-Dade in defending the Crandon rule. That appeals decision all but ended the challenge because the Third DCA did not issue an opinion that could then be challenged at the Florida Supreme Court.

There was still a chance the tournament could persuade the Third DCA to reconsider its position or issue an opinion, but on Tuesday the appeals court declined IPC’s request for both. Oren Rosenthal, an assistant county attorney assigned to the Crandon case, said the ruling means the IPC case is over. Tournament officials were not available for comment Tuesday.

Already, the tournament said the court fight would likely mean the end of its tenure in Key Biscayne because of its need to grow revenues and keep the tourney prizes competitive. “At some point, it’s going to be gone,” tournament lawyer Eugene Stearns, of Miami’s Stearns Weaver, said in December after the first loss before the appeals court. “The only question is when.”

When the Miami Open returned to Key Biscayne in March, the tournament upped its public-relations effort against the Crandon rules. Tennis star Serena Williams penned a March 22 essay in the New York Times titled “Why Tennis Needs the Miami Open.”

“When I think about the Miami Open having to leave a city I love because it isn’t able to make improvements that would benefit the players and fans, it saddens me,” she wrote.

Bruce Matheson, an heir to the original owners of the 975-acre Crandon site, has led the defense of the park rules. The Mathesons traded the park land to Miami-Dade in exchange for the county building a bridge linking the island, where they retained property, to the mainland. Tournament lawyers note the exchange dramatically increased the value of the Matheson holdings, while Bruce Matheson says the park land was donated as a public service.

A 1993 settlement of a case challenging the original construction of the tennis facility that hosts the tournament put a non-profit chosen by the Mathesons (and supported by Bruce Matheson) in charge of two of the four seats of a special board that controls all growth decisions at Crandon, and even the elected members of the Miami-Dade County Commission can’t overrule it. While Miami-Dade voters endorsed the tennis expansion plan in a 2012 referendum, a change in the county rules governing the park was still needed to authorize the construction.

On Tuesday, Matheson lawyers Richard Ovelmen and Justin Wales, of Miami’s Carlton Fields, issued a statement that read in part: “The Matheson Family is deeply gratified that the appellate court ruled to protect and preserve the public purpose of the park. The Court has been a great bulwark protecting the pristine character of the park for the public and future generations.”