First wave of public input heard on Bicentennial stadium
By Paola Iuspa
Residents have more chances to air their sentiments about a baseball stadium in downtown Miami and if the first hearing was a preview of others, the possibility of using Bicentennial Park as the site will dominate the talk.
At the first meeting, about 50 people discussed pros and cons of the proposed 40,000-seat venue for the Florida Marlins. Bicentennial is the spot favored by team owner John Henry and County Mayor Alex Penelas but civic leaders are looking at other locations.
Members of a state-created authority commissioned to help find a site and funds to build the $385 million stadium have set another public hearing for 6 p.m. Feb. 21 on the 18th floor of the Stephen Clark Center, 111 NW First St.
Sylvan Jolibois, who heads the public involvement subcommittee for the Community Improvement Authority said the comments from the meetings would be presented to authority members.
At the first meeting on Feb. 1, some residents were concerned about using 17 acres of the 29-acre Bicentennial Park for the Marlins stadium. Two other sites are north of the Miami River. A Miami commissioner is suggesting city officials also look at the Orange Bowl site.
"The park is not only important for Overtown, but also for Little Haiti, which has less than two-thirds of the land needed for parks," said Leonie Hermantin, representing the Haitian-American Foundation.
Others rejected the idea of using tax money to finance a for-profit enterprise.
"Using public funds to build a stadium is not reaching out to minority neighborhoods," said Charles "Tony" Walton, a managing director for a business development company in Hallandale Beach. "There needs to be a partnership between the people and the politicians."
But Alex Nunez, a city employee acting as liaison for the authority, responded that the Miami-Dade convention development tax that would be used to finance the stadium had been created to underwrite the costs of museums, sports facilities, convention centers and other projects related to the tourism and visitor industry.
"This tax can not be used for the police or schools," he said.
"I want to see baseball become a tradition in South Florida," said Dave Enlow, who identified himself as a fan from the Florida Marlins Baseball Club.
Mr. Enlow, a Broward resident, said he and his friends would have no problem driving south to attend games because "at the time of the games the bulk of the traffic is going north."
Ronald Cox, a political science professor at Florida International University, said he also wanted to keep the team in town, mostly because baseball was "one of the few sports still affordable."
A letter of intent signed by Miami-Dade Alex Penelas and team owner John Henry is written to expire Feb. 14 if a consensus and financial plan are not drafted. In the tentative agreement, the new venue would be paid for with $75 million in bonds, $122 million in state sales tax refunds, $26 million in parking surcharges and $46 million in ticket surcharges. The remaining $119 million would come from convention development taxes.
Several people identified themselves as representatives of the shipping industry said they wanted to educate people on the negative impact a stadium on Biscayne Boulevard would have on truck traffic heading in and out of the port.
"A lot of people are ignorant of the impact international trade has in this community," said Jose Perez Jones, vice president of Seaboard Marine, a steamship line in the Port of Miami. " International trade is the backbone of our local economy."
Mr. Jones said if access to the port were jeopardized by adding traffic to congested downtown streets, it could force his company to relocate to ports with better access routes, such as Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades.
"If we are pushed to the wall, we will leave the Port of Miami," he said.