Downtown Miami

After county backs out, Miami cancels tax-funded trip to Singapore for Grand Prix

A Formula One race, like this one in Abu Dhabi in November 2017, could be coming to Miami starting in October 2020.
A Formula One race, like this one in Abu Dhabi in November 2017, could be coming to Miami starting in October 2020. AP

The tires blew out on Formula One’s hopes of hosting Miami city officials at the Singapore Grand Prix when Mayor Francis Suarez asked administrators on Wednesday to cancel a tax-funded trip planned for five employees to witness the race this month.

Formula One is trying to land a contract to run a Grand Prix on downtown Miami streets, but talks stalled this summer. Even though Formula One has not inked a deal to run a Miami race, the international auto racing league had invited city and county officials to Singapore so they could observe logistics and security at its Grand Prix on Sept. 16.

Suarez’s decision comes the day after Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez instructed county administrators to nix the trip for five county employees, which would have cost an estimated $18,000. A few days after the Miami Herald published details of the trip on Saturday, Gimenez said the county will have opportunities to attend races that are closer; the earliest Miami could host a Grand Prix is 2020.

On Tuesday, Miami City Manager Emilio González said the trip was still on for a city delegation of police officers, firefighters and special events employees. But the county’s change of plans apparently frustrated Suarez, who sent an email Wednesday asking González to call off the trip. In it, he took a shot at Gimenez.

He wrote that bringing Formula One to Miami requires a “thorough review of logistics, security, and other race preparation” by both city and county officers. Then he questioned the county’s commitment.

“It is my understanding that this site visit would have furthered those goals,” Suarez wrote. “However, it seems that the county may not be serious about bringing an event of this magnitude to the city, as evidenced by the decision of Mayor Gimenez to pull out of the trip. Nonetheless, the city should continue to engage in ongoing discussions with Formula One and do its due diligence to ensure that concerns of our downtown residents, and other stakeholders, are addressed.”

González echoed the mayor in his response.

“We should not continue to invest time, energy, and resources until Miami-Dade County decides it wishes to fully participate as partners in this endeavor,” González wrote.

On Wednesday, Gimenez bristled at Suarez’s comments.

“That’s not true. That’s not true at all. My reasoning is very simple. The race won’t happen until 2020. There are a whole bunch of races happening in 2019,” Gimenez told the Miami Herald. “We’re not serious about it? That’s a ridiculous statement.”

Gimenez, who recused himself from the Formula One issue because his son C.J. Gimenez is a registered lobbyist for the racing entity, apparently lifted that recusal to cancel the trip. He defended his intervention on Wednesday.

“I’m not recused from not sending people out to Singapore,” he said.

Miami-Dade planned to spend about $18,000 sending five people to Singapore — three from the police department and two from the fire department. Miami was set to spend about $20,000 to send three officials, according to documents requested by the Herald last week.

In a unanimous vote earlier this year, Miami commissioners endorsed a downtown Grand Prix, much to the chagrin of some downtown residents who don’t want to deal with the noise and traffic and don’t want Bayfront Park to be closed down to stage the race.

Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.