Sports and Exhibition Authority eyes $80 million in bonds for Miami projects
By Paola Iuspa
Just as Miami's Sports and Exhibition Authority considers issuing up to $80 million in bonds, the 11-member board could be shrunk to seven by city commissioners seeking greater control of the group.
The authority will need approval for the bonds from the Miami-Dade County Commission because it hopes to use the county's Convention Development Tax as collateral.
Downsizing the authority will be up to Miami's City Commission. As sponsor of the proposal, City Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr. said the move would limit the individual agendas preventing the authority from more progress.
"They are out of control," he said. "They need to refocus their mission and set straight their priorities."
The authority is landlord of the 13-year-old Miami Arena and responsible for providing exhibition space and sponsoring community and sports events. Some commissioners want the group more involved in efforts to redevelop downtown, examine exhibition space and sell sites such as the James L. Knight Center, which has a $3.5 million annual deficit, Mr. Teele said.
The change, to be discussed May 9 by city officials, calls for each of five commissioners to sit on the authority or name one person and for the mayor to appoint a member and chair it. Currently, each commissioner has two appointees to the authority, which is chaired by the mayor.
Some commissioners support changing the authority's makeup because they say it is too focused on the arena. Commissioner Johnny Winton said some think the authority is distant from city administration.
"The city needs to help them develop a clear mission. It is not just about the Miami Arena."
But two lobbyists who work with the authority said the change is size is designed to edge out Eli Feinberg, a powerful founding member. Mr. Feinberg is an appointee of Commissioner Angel Gonzalez, also on the board and planning to stay if the board is downsized, leaving Mr. Feinberg out.
"I have the history, understand the authority finance and know the issues," said Mr. Feinberg.
Recruited by downtown hotel owners in 1983, he said he lobbied the Legislature to form the authority as a semi-independent entity to build downtown exhibition space. Once the arena was built in 1989, he said, work toward new centers did not materialize.
Changes in the authority's makeup would come as the group is resurrecting a year-old idea to issue bonds. Ferey Kian, authority finance director, said if approved, some bonds could go toward the Miami Arena's $35 million debt service.
The rest of the money, he said, would need to be earmarked for specific projects before the county would OK backing the bonds. Mr. Kian's proposal, prepared in June 2001, listed remodeling the Knight Center and the Orange Bowl among projects that could be financed with authority bonds.
Now, the bond proposal is gaining interest as entertainment developer Zev Buffman proposes converting Miami Arena into an aquatics center. That makeover is estimated at $35 million, Mr. Buffman has said, and Mr. Kian said the proposal requires the authority to pay 100% for the conversion.