The role of a controversial Miami businessman in a $121 million package to restore and reopen the iconic Miami Marine Stadium and erect a commercial complex on surrounding public land is becoming a contentious issue on the eve of a crucial vote to move negotiations forward for a long-term lease.
Manuel Alonso-Poch was involved in the deal through a private corporation that is co-funding much of the project proposed by the not-for-profit Friends of Miami Marine Stadium. Alonso-Poch and EXPO-Miami, which he incorporated this year, appear to have played a significant role in securing a tentative commitment from the Miami International Boat Show for the site — a key agreement that is anchoring the entire deal.
But despite his efforts, Alonso-Poch apparently will not be a part of the team as they present Thursday to the Miami City Commission.
On Oct. 31, just days before Friends’ board of directors took a somewhat heated vote on the proposed project, the Miami attorney was removed from the corporate records of EXPO-Miami. Leaders of Friends now say Alonso-Poch agreed to step away from the deal after concerns were raised about his time as landlord and service provider of a scandal-plagued Coconut Grove charter school.
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“We said this project means too much to us so if you’re a part of this deal we don’t want to go forward. So he removed himself,” said Jorge Hernandez, co-founder of the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, the group seeking a 49-year lease from the city of Miami. “We have put everything on the line to restore this building.”
Concerns about Alonso-Poch’s involvement apparently pushed him out this month, but controversy has swirled around him for years.
Back in 2012, the Miami-Dade School District auditor general investigated allegations of impropriety at the Academy of Arts & Minds, a charter school that operated out of Alonso-Poch’s Commodore Plaza. The school allegedly contracted with several of his companies for services and was run by a board of associates and family members. Parents complained that they were charged illegal fees and that in some cases textbooks weren’t available for weeks to start the school year.
Alonso-Poch did not return repeated phone calls and voice mails left on his cellphone Monday and Tuesday. He was not charged with any crimes, and ultimately severed his ties with the school following bankruptcy proceedings for Commodore Plaza. But the stigma remains, so much so that his ties to the project became an issue with the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium when board members voted Nov. 4 on the proposal that is now pending city commission approval.
On that day, board member and former Miami U.S. Attorney Roberto Martinez resigned in protest of Alonso-Poch’s participation.
“I did not approve of the deal. I did not want any association with Expo-Miami or Manny Alonso-Poch,” said Martinez, who added his opposition was not an indictment of the preservation group or their project. “The board approved it. I voted against it. I resigned.”
For Martinez, a former member of the state board of education and active participant in school district issues, Alonso-Poch was radioactive. Some city officials and members of Friends still feel the same, and remain dubious as to whether Alonso-Poch has indeed pulled out entirely from the deal, even though Friends’ corporate statements show he has no ownership stake in EXPO-Miami.
Attempts to reach the stakeholders of EXPO-Miami on Tuesday were unsuccessful. Boat show representatives declined to comment on their relationship with Alonso-Poch, though they have acknowledged that their agreement for Marine Stadium lies with EXPO-Miami.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said that despite lingering questions, the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium have made clear that Poch is no longer a part of the team.
“I think he did the right thing for Miami,” said Regalado.
Editor’s note: On Nov. 19, Kelly Kaylor, Director of Communications for the National Marine Manufacturers Association, sent a note addressing previous information distributed by the NMMA regarding the relationship between Miami International Boat Show and EXPO-Miami.
“The information sent along by our show’s PR firm on November 13 regarding an agreement with EXPO was, unfortunately, incorrect. Sasha was given a bit of misinformation by one of our staff. At this point, NMMA does not have an agreement in place with EXPO, only a letter of intent with Friends of Miami Marine Stadium. Should FMMS receive approval on Thursday to move forward then there would be further conversations with FMMS and EXPO related to the boat show.”