Bruce Matheson, 69 and a descendant of the family that donated coveted land that is Crandon Park to the county, has scored another victory in his quest to uphold his family’s mission to preserve public land for Miami-Dade residents.
Like him or not — and many don’t — Mr. Matheson is an environmentalist and a champion of preserving our vanishing public spaces and keeping for-profit business out of some of Crandon’s most pristine land, donated to the county in 1940 by his grandfather, Hugh Matheson. The gift carried a legally binding caveat that it be preserved for everyone’s enjoyment.
For decades, Mr. Matheson’s mission has kept him at odds with County Hall and business interests that see the commercial potential of that scenic stretch of land between mainland Miami and Key Biscayne. Mr. Matheson has done an artful job of guarding the land.
Last week, he might have helped land a blow that will run the annual popular Miami Open tennis tournament out of Key Biscayne.
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In the Third District Court of Appeal, the tournament lost a challenge to growth restrictions at the county-owned Crandon site, home to the tourney that each spring draws some of the biggest tennis stars and about 300,000 spectators.
If they can’t expand, they’ll move to another city, tournament officials told the Miami Herald. “I won’t shed a tear if they leave,” Mr. Matheson told the Editorial Board.
We hope it doesn’t come to that. County officials and tournament representatives rightly boast that the event is an economic engine for Miami-Dade. With a fight looming to get out of an eight-year contract with the county, both sides should proceed in the spirit of cooperation and compromise.
In 1990, when he first tried to bar the Lipton Players Championship from building along the two miles of donated waterfront land in Crandon Park, Mr. Matheson, then 44, told the Herald: “The family’s position is to save Crandon Park from destruction. We’re going to pursue this matter until we feel we’ve returned the park to all the citizens of Dade County.”
Today, Mr. Matheson said the goal remains the same, but now there are a stadium and tennis courts on the property. Years ago, a litigation settlement created a four-person committee, which includes Mr. Matheson, to approve any new changes to the park’s master plan.
How the Matheson property was donated the county is a tale of old-time generosity. Mr. Matheson’s great-grandfather, W.J. Matheson, was a pioneer in the U.S. organic chemistry industry developing wood dyes, white lead and synthetic hydrocarbons.
He lived in South Florida part time and bought up the northern two-thirds of Key Biscayne. After W.J. Matheson’s death, County Commissioner Charles Crandon came up with the idea to create a park on the property. He proposed a deal to the Matheson heirs: Donate the island’s north end to the county, and we’ll build a causeway from the mainland. The deal was struck with the restrictions that the land never be used for private, profit-making enterprise — which the family vehemently upholds.
It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since the land was donated, Mr. Matheson said. He’ll continue to fight for it until he can’t. “Then another family member who is in his 40s will take over, and after that, a family member who is now 10 will take over,” he said.
Commend Mr. Matheson for his public-spirited mission.