Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Monday weighed in on a proposal by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to build a tennis facility adjacent to Hard Rock Stadium and move the 32-year-old Miami Open to Miami Gardens from Key Biscayne.
The tournament has been embroiled in a lengthy lawsuit with the Matheson family, which in the 1940s gifted the 975-acre Crandon Park to the county in exchange for a bridge connecting the key to the mainland. Bruce Matheson, one member of the family, has been adamant about maintaining strict restrictions on use and expansion of the park.
Under the current rules, Miami Open owners are prohibited from making the privately-funded improvements necessary to stay on par with other top tournaments in the world. Without those upgrades, the tournament would likely be forced to move.
“My top priority is to keep the tennis tournament in Miami,” Gimenez said. “If it is in Key Biscayne, great. But the main thing is to make sure it doesn’t leave Miami. Right now, we are trying to unravel ourselves from the Matheson deal, which is unbelievably restrictive.”
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Ross proposed, as an alternative, to build a state-of-the-art tennis complex on the Hard Rock Stadium grounds, including a large hospitality plaza that would also be used during Dolphins games, international soccer matches, concerts and other events at the stadium. He met with tournament officials on Thursday to discuss his idea.
Ross addressed the Miami Open situation Monday at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. "When I read the Miami Open might leave, I spoke with them and if there is an alternative between staying on Key Biscayne or leaving (town), I wanted to present them a position, I thought it would work at our stadium.”
Asked how long it would take to complete construction on a tennis complex, he replied: “No time. A year...a small challenge.”
He said a tennis facility would fit in with his concept of the stadium site being a multi-purpose entertainment complex.
“We’re exploring it,” he said. “If they can stay on Key Biscayne, they’d probably prefer to stay there. But it’s more important to people in Miami that they don’t lose the tournament somewhere else. That’s what’s key. Just like they lost the golf tournament. We’re looking to do what’s good for South Florida."
The tournament draws most of the biggest names in the sport and more than 300,000 fans every year.
In addition to keeping the Miami Open from moving, Gimenez said he wants to bring back a PGA golf tournament to Miami. The longtime tournament at Doral moved to Mexico last year.
“My first choice is Crandon Park, because I think that course can be extraordinary,” Gimenez said. “As for (Bruce) Matheson and Crandon Park, we are fighting to give control of the park back to the people of Miami-Dade and not one person.”
He also assured that President Donald Trump, who made a bid to take over the waterfront Crandon Park Golf Course before his presidential run, would not be involved in any future plans.
“That was an unsolicited proposal, was never our intention, and will not be our intention in the future. We will not give control over to the president,” Gimenez said.
Herald writer Armando Salguero contributed to this report.