Legislature can help Miami Gardens

From the addition of premier entertainment complexes like TopGolf to the demolition and planned redevelopment of underutilized parcels like Carol Mart, Miami Gardens is making strides toward revitalization. But, the fact remains, we have only one sit-down restaurant, virtually no shopping and little in the way of regular entertainment outside of our annual signature event, Jazz in the Gardens, in March.

To realize our full potential, we need to ensure all land within the city limits is put to its highest and best use. Yet, there is an antiquated state law pertaining to gaming that limits our ability to maximize the city’s potential. Current law requires that in order for a venue to offer gaming, such as slot machines and cardrooms, it must “couple” those operations with live dog or horse track races.

What does this gaming law have to do with ensuring land in Miami Gardens is put to good use? Calder Race Course, a thoroughbred racetrack, sits on a 170-acre parcel of land on a major commercial thoroughfare in Miami Gardens. Calder goes largely unused because of its 2014 agreement with Gulfstream Park, another racing venue that sits just eight miles away, to consolidate the two tracks’ racing activity — at no detriment to the thoroughbred industry.

But because of the outdated gaming law, Calder must remain operational because of its casino. This is unfortunate. Calder Race Course is eager to see growth in the community and would like to see this land put to its highest and best use. So, while the race course stands ready to be a partner in bettering our community, and our progressive city is ready to redevelop the land, our hands are tied as long as this law remains in place.

Fortunately, the Florida Legislature is contemplating decoupling racing from other forms of gaming during the 2017 legislative session. Removing the requirement that horse racing and dog racing must be paired, or coupled, with other forms of gaming will allow this land to be rezoned and developed for retail, commercial and entertainment uses. This not only will increase the tax base and generate new jobs, but further enhance commercial activity and vibrancy within the community.

These valuable new prospects come at virtually no cost, as it has been shown that two race tracks are unnecessary to serve the region, and the land that Calder now occupies can be put to better use.

I recently traveled to Tallahassee to advocate for the decoupling of Calder Race Course’s horse racing and gaming. During the visit, I explained that, though Miami Gardens was incorporated in 2003, instantly becoming the third-largest city in Miami-Dade County, as well as the largest predominantly black city in the state, our efforts to become a community are ongoing.

This law suppresses economic growth, thus suppressing our ability to build a community. I urge Florida lawmakers to pass legislation this session that allows Calder Race Course to elect to decouple its racing operations.

Communities are places with businesses and churches, homes and civic institutions; places where you can spend money and time close to where you live. We want to build a strong community within our beloved city, and decoupling is a firm step toward achieving that goal. It unlocks a major resource in our city by allowing for the redevelopment of one the city’s busiest commercial thoroughfares and infuses much-needed economic activity where it is currently lacking.

Oliver Gilbert III is mayor of Miami Gardens.