Ditch the hush-hush, rush-rush of the monorail project. Is a casino in the works? | Editorial

A recent report by a Miami-Dade consultant cited this monorail system in Seattle as an example of what could operate between Miami and Miami Beach.
A recent report by a Miami-Dade consultant cited this monorail system in Seattle as an example of what could operate between Miami and Miami Beach.

There are few places in the county where our traffic inferno is more infuriating than along the stretch of asphalt linking the county’s two main cities, Miami and Miami Beach, especially at the wrong time of day.

Solutions have been considered for decades. A train or monorail over the bay, dubbed Baylink, has often been floated in the county’s SMART Plan list of traffic solutions. But no serious action has ever been taken because of residents’ complaints.

And now, just like that, there’s a Miami-Dade County proposal that seems to have fallen from the sky. Hmm.

The proposal, whose exact details have been secret under state law for submitted “unsolicited” proposals, turns out to be a troubling partnership between Genting, a casino company that years ago purchased the old Miami Herald bayfront property hoping to win approval for a casino resort, the Chinese-connected company, BYD and a local company, Aqualand Development, where two main players in the project have worked for Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s political campaigns. Together, all three companies will pursue a tax-funded contract to build the monorail.

On Wednesday, Gimenez is recommending that the County Commission give credence to this project by allowing other companies to compete to build the monorail.

Because of the secretive, but legal, umbrella shielding the original proposal, the public, Miami Beach officials and the media were unaware of this significant plan until a May 17 letter from Gimenez’s office revealed some details behind the confidential “Miami Beach Monorail Unsolicited Proposal.” Miami Herald reporter Douglas Hanks broke the story.

Angered by the plan, and rightly so, is Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, who fears Genting’s involvement means the monorail is a Trojan horse for a casino component.

“I believe that most or all of the city’s commissioners will strenuously object to any plan that might allow for, or even contemplate, a casino that is placed nearby or that is actually tethered to our community,’’ Gelber wrote in a letter to the editor.

We wholeheartedly support Gelber in his opposition to a casino being included in the mix for a Baylink. A casino is a long shot right now and needs state and voters’ approval. Casinos long have been rejected in this community. But if Genting is going to try again, the public needs to know that. It’s hard to imagine that a casino company wants to magnanimously see a Baylink built without some sort of payoff down the line.

We are also concerned at how Gimenez’s friends Ralph Garcia-Toledo and Jesse Manzano Plaza are involved in this likely lucrative project.

“I understand the criticism, but Garcia-Toledo is a businessman, I can’t stop him from doing business,” Gimenez told the Editorial Board. “The idea of a backroom deal is fiction. This is a viable plan for the county.” As always, the devil is in the details, and that’s what’s been missing.

We don’t like the rush-rush, hush-hush of this project. But by voting to open the project to other companies, the public will see details.

Though Gimenez appears to have been meticulous in hewing to the law, already the project has gotten off to a faltering start. Cynics’ fears that this is a done deal for Genting must be allayed and the public heard.