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Thursday, July 12, 2018

No decision on Melreese/soccer issue

The proposed Miami Freedom Park

The City Commission had a packed house on Thursday for the discussion of the issue of turning the Melreese Golf Course into a soccer complex, which went well into the night. In the end, the Commission agreed to defer the meeting until next week. After hours and hours of discussion, a consensus could not be met. Their job was to decide whether to put the issue to a ballot for city voters to decide on in November.  Residents would vote yes or no to allow a change of laws which would waive competitive bidding to allow County Commissioners to make a deal with the owners, the Beckham group, to lease 73 acres of the Melreese Country Club property which is located next to Miami International Airport at 1802 N. 37 Avenue.

So far, nothing has been decided.

David Beckham and Jorge Mas, owners of the new soccer franchise were present, and explained the idea behind the whole park, called Miami Freedom Park. A large part of the area is open green space and open soccer fields for the public to play in. It will be open and free to all. The actual 25,000 seat soccer stadium is in another section of the park. It's  whole make-over of Melreese Park. Up to $1 billion could be spent to build the whole park. They claim that taxpayers will pay none of that.

The soccer stadium has now turned into 96 businesses which will be in that park with a 750 unit hotel (changed from 500), a conference center, retail and 400,000 square feet of office space and 3750 parking spaces.  All this in a public park. I'm not sure how traffic around the airport will be affected, but this is a very dense area. The whole complex is proposed to bring in $435 million a year in revenue. The city is proposed to make $3.5 million a year on the project, but many feel that amount would be too low compared to the gross. The City and County would also share in a proposed $44 million in taxes which would also go to schools.

David Beckham
speaks to Commission
At the 11th hour, Commissioner Ken Russell asked to have a future meeting, he was uncomfortable with a few things. There were just too many unanswered questions for him. "Why are we doing this now in the middle of the night? Why are we negotiating on the dais when we could have been discussing this for three months? My gut tells me that we can do better."  He welcomes more public comment. Commissioner Manolo Reyes agreed. He said there was no transparency. He was not prepared to vote either.

After a heated exchange, the commissioners decided to meet again to discuss this issue on Wednesday, July 18 at 10 am to discuss ballot language.

Ken said, "I forgot my rubber stamp. I got 99 problems and this pitch ain't one." He felt that the commissioner of the district where the project is, should be taken into consideration. That's Commissioner Will Gort, who had many questions, concerning his district and the indifference the Beckham group showed the neighbors. Ken agreed that the neighbors were not consulted at all in that district. That's a problem for him. "I want to see the voters have a choice, but they trust us to vet these projects before it comes to them," he said. "People don't feel comfortable because they don't know what's going on." He said he has been hearing from his constituents concerned about the project. 

Then there is the question of toxins under the ground at Melreese Park. Ken is very familiar with the ash and toxins that allegedly are in the Melreese Park ground. He started his political career cleaning up Merri Christmas Park right here in the Grove. "I know what it costs to remediate the cleanup and this one scares me," he said. "I'm assuming the worst." Mas told him that the city would not be responsible for the remediation. He said his group would take care of that. He said they could "cap" the toxic areas, but he did say there would be limits to what they would pay. Ken wants them to use the words, "100% privately funded." He wants to protect the city and would like them to be responsible for everything. In the end, Mas agreed.

Ken asked that no park space be reduced. It could be made up in other areas of the city and be completed by the end of the soccer project. It's called a "no net loss policy." He doesn't consider the stadium itself as park space. He also asked for a percentage of all sales (gross revenue sharing) so that if the project makes more money over the years, the city will make more money. He was concerned about unions and minimum wage of $15 per hour for workers. That was a big sticking point for him.

Mayor Francis Suarez spoke to the commission at the meeting, and asked them to allow the voters to decide. The problem with that is the voters may be voting for celebrity not realizing they are handing over city-owned property for private enterprise. Suarez talked about golf courses not turning a profit, if they don't should we sell them off? What about Kennedy Park and Peacock Park here in the Grove, do they turn a profit or should we turn them over to private developers, too?  Also, this is one of the cases where the whole city votes regarding one neighborhood who will deal with the brunt of the project.

Commissioner Willy Gort told the Beckham group that while they did meet with neighbors, they did not meet with all of the neighbors, especially those east of the project who live right at the project, who are the most concerned. And he asked about traffic, which the Beckham group seemed to brush off. Commissioner Manolo Reyes also agreed that the immediate neighbors were not consulted. He said that the Beckham group has not been transparent, he said he got more information from the Miami Herald than from the group itself. He felt that the project should be open for bid to find out the real value of the property. He said he has problems with the current financials. "My dream is to bring transparency to the City of Miami," he said. "We have lost the trust of the people," he said. He said that voters think they are voting only for a soccer stadium, when it's a whole park and complex including a hotel and stores.

Reyes is the first one to bring up the subject of toxins under the park. That park was a toxic dump at one time and when it is dug up for renovation, all problems are going to come up with remediation along with astronomical costs. He said this is a huge development that the city is giving away. It's not a little project. He also said that when the World Cup games come to Miami in the future, they are going to be played at Hard Rock/Joe Robbie Stadium, not this new stadium, as the Beckham group has led people to believe.

Commissioner Joe Carollo said that Melreese is a country club and you pay to get into it.  You pay to play golf, too. He felt the golf club does not make a profit so that it should be turned over to developers. He spoke of bringing in revenues and the fact that the City of Miami doesn't have a mall like Dadeland. Aren't malls dying, a thing of the past? He did make a point that maybe 1% of Miami residents have ever been to Melreese Park, which could be true. He talked about moving the First Tee children's golf group to another golf course, when earlier, Mas said he would preserve the First Tee program at the new soccer complex.

Chairman of the Commission, Keon Hardemon, talked about people voting for projects that are out of their districts, which always is the case in Miami. The ultimate vote should go to the residents of District 1.

Eminent domain will come into play as roads will need to be widened, issues with the airport will be involved and the whole thing could turn into a big mess where traffic and neighbors in the area are concerned. 

It's not being for or against soccer or Beckham, it's about renting out public land for private purposes. That is the issue here. Beckham and Mas made it about them and their children and their love of soccer. It's not about that.

Once the door is opened, Coconut Grove has the most to lose because precedence is set. The waterfront may now open for developers who will claim they can bring the city millions of dollars by taking that over just like developers were allowed to take over the golf course which is in District 1. Of all the commission districts in Miami, District 2, Coconut Grove, has the most to lose in the future.

This is going to be voted on and anything can happen, but people are blinded by the celebrity of David Beckham and most likely will approve that the property be turned over for soccer. They should have made a stipulation that says the Beckham group cannot advertise or lobby the public for votes; the mayor cannot go on the radio and push the project either. 

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Blogger Elvis Cruz said...

Commissioner Ken Russell:

Should a high rise office complex be allowed in Peacock Park?

High rise condos in Kennedy Park?

A high rise hotel and retail on Watson Island?

Once you start allowing private developers to use public park land, how does it stop?

Commissioner Russell, these developers have deep pockets. Let them buy their own private land elsewhere and build their own stadium, like Joe Robbie did.

Park land should be considered sacred ground, to be preserved and protected. Public interest-minded commissioners should have declared this proposal a non-starter at the outset.

Ken, please don't cross over to the dark side. Please protect our parks. You argued that the district commissioner should be respected when the others went after things in your district. Willy Gort is opposed to this, with good reason. Please vote no.

Merrie Christmas park should be protected from private development. Melreese deserves no less.

You have a great opportunity to shine by supporting the public interest. Please vote no.

July 13, 2018 7:28 AM  
Anonymous Jack said...

Your article is an excellent summary the meeting.

July 13, 2018 8:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Red Flags "waive competitive bidding" "voting for celebrity not realizing" they are voting for Jorge Mas control machine.

July 13, 2018 10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elvis Cruz for Commissioner! Excellent summary of the issue at hand. Thank you!

July 15, 2018 9:19 AM  
Blogger NCOFCU said...

Let's not make this Soccer v/s Golf

This is the giving away of city property (a Park) to private developers. If we don't stop it here this will then become the rule and no city park will be safe.

If this is approved, you will then have developers wanting to build highrises in Legon Park, Kennedy Park, Peacock Park, Douglas Park, Merry Christmass Park just to name a few (full list here which includes Melreese) http://www.miamigov.com/parks/docs/2014parklist.pdf.

Just Say NO!!!!!

July 16, 2018 12:51 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Right now as it stands, the golf course is a semi private park. Only way to get in and enjoy the open space is to pay for a round of golf. If we don't allow a vote for use a football complex then allow a vote to eliminate as golf course and turn it into a true open space park for all us residents to enjoy. Golf course is run by a private company and it's lost money 8 out of 10 years. Roberto Nespereira, resident of Miami/Grove for 18 years and resident of Dade County for 50 years.

July 18, 2018 12:40 PM  

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