Jorge Mas’ dream of a great commercially relevant park to rival New York’s (Queens) Flushing Meadows Park with green space, sports arena’s, commercial development and other amenities faces a major test in front of voters on Tuesday. Miami Freedom Park which would developed on the current site of Melreese Country Club has aroused controversy since its conception earlier this year. Mas’ is the co-owner of MLS soccer club Inter Miami CF along with David Beckham among others.
In July, after two heated meetings of the Miami City Commission, the plan for the park was approved and sent to the November ballot. Commissioners approved putting the park which includes a stadium for a soccer team owned by Mas and adjacent retail complex and park space. The commission vote was 3-2 in favor.
The deciding vote was ultimately cast by Miami Commissioner Ken Russell came down to a number issues including whether the project will pay employees and contractors a living wage, which is thought to be a minimum of $15 per hour. This came after two weeks of intense lobbying and conversations about the park proposal.
Mas’ whose concept for Miami Freedom Park includes a soccer stadium for Inter Miami CF, as well as shops, an office park and over 50 acres of park space spent the week in between the contentious commission meetings discussing issues each individual commissioner had with the project. City of Miami voters are being for all intents and purposes being asked to let Mas and his partners skip the codified competitive bidding process around public lands and negotiate a 99-year lease with the city for Melreese property.
The family of Jorge Mas has long influenced politics in Miami-Dade County and brilliantly did so in other states for many years. The Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF) was co-founded by Mas’ father, Jorge Mas Canosa. The group became incredibly influential, dominated local politics in Miami-Dade County within both political parties and eventually played a major role in state and national politics. Jorge Mas himself has long had an important role in dealing with local elected officials both as an activist and as President of the company his dad founded, MasTech, which is one of the most prominent companies in the area which also deals with a host of other government entities in the area.
On this matter, Mas not only got his way with the Commission as usual, but has funded an aggressive direct mail campaign that has been unmatched by park opponents.
Mas’ dad long feuded with The Miami Herald, a newspaper in that era that had a reputation of being to the left politically. But until July, the paper’s editorial staff and sports writers were largely supportive of anything Beckham or Mas pushed related to the MLS team. Then, that changed as The Herald pushed for a no vote from the commission on the project . The opposition of The Herald influenced the discussions. In an era where newspapers are losing its influence on local matters, it was heartening to see that reversed if even only temporarily on this matter.
Couple the opposition of The Herald with the tempered criticisms of local but nationally prominent sports and soccer writers, and the Commission had the political capital and cover it needed to hold off on a decision, which they did for a week before Russell opted to support sending the question to the voters. Following the Commissions’s passage of the question and it being placed on the ballot, The Herald once again dove into the issue with a definitive primer on all things related to the land.
The Herald gives a very detailed account of potential issues with the park. I have several thoughts on the question, both positive and negative. While I am not a City of Miami resident or even a Miami-Dade County resident, what happens in Miami as south Florida’s leading city and an international destination is of critical importance to everyone in the state. I do work in the City of Miami, it should be noted.
- Miami needs retail shopping : A locale with a burgeoning financial district, more cultural and entertainment opportunities than ever before, as well as vibrant, diverse, multicultural population needs a complex like this to serve the population and act as a destination within the city for shopping – currently visitors to Miami often travel south the Kendall, west to the Dolphin Mall or even north into Broward County to shop at ordinary mall like stores.
- The Inter Miami’s CF soccer team needs a stadium: Failure to build here would mean the club would either have to return to the Overtown site they own which has met with opposition locally or look for a facility outside the city. This would potentially result in a revenue loss for the city of Miami.
- The Train: the park will be close to the Miami International Airport train station, the busiest station currently in Florida – Tri Rail trains coming from Broward and Beach Counties as well as Metrorail’s Orange Line that heads toward Downtown frequent the station.
- Park space: The amount of park space being offered as part of this deal – Mas’ claims at least 110 acres of green space will be preserved including over 50 acres of park space.
- Public lands needed in south Florida: While Miami Freedom Park is an interesting concept for Melreese Golf Club, it is possible better concepts that would yield greater public benefits exists if an actual competitive bidding process occurred. Miami is now a global city, one . But like all major coastal cities it has urban problems and environmental concerns. One thing severely lacking is green space in Miami-Dade or Broward counties, and as the population continues to explode, this isn’t a problem that is temporary.
- Increased automobile traffic: As noted above a busy train station is near the proposed park. But what about people who’d rather drive than take the train? Unless State Road 836, which provides expressway access to the area from downtown, is expanded and local neighborhood roads such as 37th Avenue and LeJeune Road were renovated to accommodate the increased traffic flows, Miami Freedom Park is likely to be problematic for local residents. I don’t see how this point is even remotely debatable. Miami, is a city that developed inorganically and at the behest of developers who wanted to build high-rise buildings and an excessive amount of retail shops, is now somewhat of a mismatch for the attitudes of newer residents. Discussions about increased bike trails, trains and trolley’s dominate discussions around the city. The idea of forcing MORE automobile traffic onto Miami’s city roads has not been contemplated in years and quite honestly doesn’t fit the vision of Miami in the 2020’s most have.
- Do communities benefit from sports stadiums? The answer almost universally is no. “Studies consistently find no discernible relationship between sports facility construction and local economic development, income growth or job creation,” said Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Ted Gayer. While taxpayer money is not funding the construction of Inter Miami CF’s stadium, the land giveaway and the process followed to get to this point do constitute a reason for concern. Additionally, Miami has learned from the Marlins Stadium debacle that Gayer’s words are largely accurate.