The Miami City Commission on Thursday will once again air the ups and downs of the Miami Freedom Park proposal. It’s been a while, and Commissioner Manolo Reyes, who opposes building a soccer stadium in for Melreese Golf Course, wants some answers.
So do we.
Local multimillionaire businessmen, and brothers, Jorge and Jose Mas, soccer megastar David Beckham and investor Marcelo Claure won the green light from voters in November to seek a no-bid agreement with the city to build a billion-dollar retail, hotel and Major League Soccer stadium complex on Miami’s only city-owned golf course.
Reyes’ isn’t bringing a definitive proposal before the commission, just, apparently, a draft lease that has a lot of blanks to fill in, including all the major expenses that Jorge Mas has promised to pay and the results of a several studies.
The whole process has been one of hurry up and wait. And though Mas says his side has nurtured support for the huge project from residents who live closest to the site, other Miamians, including a few running for a seat on the City Commission complain that the city is not looking out for residents’ best interests.
The bait-and-switch that got Marlins Park constructed with taxpayers bearing the brunt of the burden still stings. No one wants that to happen again. Some commission skeptics have hinted that the whole process should start over with the proposal put out to any willing bidder. And Reyes wants to preserves green space at all costs.
It’s too late for either scenario. It’s inconceivable that the city would violate the public’s trust by seeking to throw out its 60 percent approval for the referendum. It’s a court fight the city can’t afford and shouldn’t seek. And if Commissioner Willy Gort, who opposes the stadium but is serving his final term, is replaced by a pro-stadium candidate in a few weeks, it could lock in the four-fifths majority vote needed to move the project forward. In fact, Reyes has accused the city of dragging its feet in the process, perhaps waiting for a new stadium-friendly commissioner to back Mayor Francis Suarez’s pet project.
For instance, Mas told the Editorial Board that when his attorneys sent the city its initial lease proposal in June, they did not receive a response — a “redline” version — until September. Though Reyes is on the other side of this issue, he corroborates this story.
Reyes also told the Board that he had to file a Freedom of Information Act to shake loose project details, such as a traffic study. It’s incredible that a commissioner had to fight City Hall to get answers.
Mas’ goal is a 99-year lease for 130 acres of prime land, including 72 acres for a soccer stadium and fields. The one clear plus is a promised 58-acre city park, desperately needed green space in a city that has too little for its residents, studies show.
At the least on Thursday, commissioners should agree that this process will not be deadline driven. There was a MLS deadline hanging over Mas and Beckham’s heads last year in order for them to secure a team. Their project — and their promises — were unveiled too close to the election. There simply was not enough time to vet it. Also, Miamians’ interests will be paramount. That means that they will be the winners when the final lease is presented.
Throughout the process, the mayor has been too avid a cheerleader for this project. Now, it’s time for him to be a leader.