The Miami Marlins won county permission on Tuesday to move its home run sculpture out of Marlins Park to the plaza outside, giving Derek Jeter a key win in his efforts to erase the legacy of former owner Jeffrey Loria.
The sculptor behind “Homer,” New York’s Red Grooms, opposed moving the seven-story piece of public art, saying he designed it under a $2.5 million contract with Miami-Dade County specifically for its perch in center field. The sculpture whirs to life whenever the Marlins hit a home run, sending mechanical marlins spinning and fountains spraying during a 29-second cycle timed to end once the typical base runner makes it to home plate.
Grooms proved a significant obstacle for Jeter, who personally pitched the 81-year-old artist last month when the former Yankee visited Grooms at a Chelsea gallery exhibiting his work. A county board populated by artists and art supporters must approve changes involving Miami-Dade’s Art in Public Places collection, and this week Grooms urged members to reject Jeter’s plan.
“Moving ‘Homer’ anywhere else is destroying it,” Grooms and his wife, Lysiane Grooms, wrote in an email to the county Monday. “Please keep ‘Homer’ doing its job and let him be part of the celebration of the Marlins right where he belongs.”
Part of the deal the Art in Public Places board approved Tuesday requires the Marlins to pay Miami-Dade $2.5 million if Grooms exercises his option to disavow his work and render it close to worthless on the art market. Board members expressed worries that ignoring the Grooms protest would sour other prominent artists on accepting commissions from Miami-Dade, but they still voted unanimously to approve the move.
“What’s particularly challenging for me is Red Grooms’ opinion on this,” said board member Tracey Robertson Carter, a museum leader. “It definitely sets a standard, what we’re going to do today.”
With the board’s vote, Jeter received the green light to implement his most significant change to Marlins Park since the former Yankee and his partners paid $1.2 billion last year to buy the team from Loria. The Marlins plan to promptly dismantle “Homer” and replace it with a new multi-level spectator area with no seats but room for about 400 people willing to buy cheap tickets and stand during the game. The Marlins see it as a way to target a younger demographic more interested in mingling and exploring the stadium than sitting down to watch an entire game.
Grooms is a friend of Loria, a New York art dealer who pitched “Homer” as the right choice for Marlins Park’s public-art requirement as a county-owned building when the new stadium opened in 2012. For six seasons, it has been the signature feature of the park, a kitschy, carnival-colored monument that was beloved by some fans and derided as hopelessly tacky by others.
“This is a pretty polarizing piece,” Chip Bowers, the Marlins president of business operations, told the arts board.
“I understand the sensitivities of artists,” Bowers said. “That said, the artist was a friend of the prior owner’s. Who [submitted the “Homer” proposal] because the prior owner asked him to. He had bought a lot of art from him previously, and continues to do so today.
“The art itself is meant to reflect Miami, but in Mr. Grooms’ own words, is actually based on Daytona, Florida,” Bowers said. “So when we think about Miami, this would not be authentically Miami. Albeit beautiful ....”
He said the new ownership group valued the sculpture but needed the space to revitalize the crowd experience for younger fans at a time when the ballpark is posting the worst attendance in Major League Baseball. “There aren’t a lot of experiences we can create for today’s millennial audience,” Bowers told the board. “We’re going to create some new seating products inside the venue that we think give us a better opportunity to invite the ‘new Miami’ into Marlins Park.”
County approval of moving the sculpture — the board’s decision was the last regulatory step — captures the sharp turn in government relations between the Loria and the Jeter era. Gimenez all but boycotted Marlins games when Loria owned the team, relenting only to watch a few innings as part of a ceremony celebrating Miami’s selection for the 2017 All-Star Game (which the mayor also skipped).
Gimenez threw out a first pitch for the first home game with Jeter as CEO this year, and backed the effort to rid Marlins Park of “Homer.” Early proposals from the Gimenez administration included moving “Homer” miles away — plans were drawn up for putting the sculpture in Miami’s Museum Park, in Miami International Airport, and at PortMiami.
First elected in 2011, Gimenez said he attended his first Art in Public Places board meeting Tuesday when he urged the board to accept Homer’s proposed move.
“I know the artist doesn’t want it moved,” Gimenez said. “There has to be a sense of compromise here.”
In its new location outside, “Homer” will still turn on for home runs, as well as at the end of every home win and every day at 3:05 p.m., an homage to Miami’s original area code.
Bowers said “Homer” will be the centerpiece of a new art walk the Marlins plan for outside the stadium. It will be secured by a new eight-foot fence the team plans to erect around the stadium.
The agreement with Miami-Dade gives the Marlins a little more than a year to place the sculpture in its new location on the southeast corner of the stadium complex, by Northwest 14th Avenue. The team must pay $2,000 a day if the sculpture isn’t up by Jan. 1, 2020.
Bowers said the plan is to dismantle the sculpture as quickly as possible. The team needs the space cleared to get construction started on the new spectator area in order for it to be open for the start of the season next spring. Homer’s debut in its new open-air home will take longer.
“I think we’d be hard-pressed to get it there by Opening Day,” he said.