Mayor Regalado protests what he calls lack of local jobs on Florida Marlins ballpark construction
By Risa Polansky
Proponents pitched constructing a new, retractable-roof Marlins ballpark as a local jobs generator.
As the largely publicly funded stadium rises on the site of the old Orange Bowl in Little Havana, Miami's new mayor says he's not seeing it in practice.
He wrote to Miami-Dade County's inspector general this month calling for "an investigation into the hiring practices of the developers of the New Marlins Ballpark," alleging that two subcontractors on the job, Sunshine Coast Management and Cove Construction, aren't meeting local jobs targets.
Sunshine Coast did not return a call on deadline, and the phone number for Cove rang busy on several attempts.
But Mr. Regalado wrote that September payroll records show that 73 of the companies' 259 workers on the stadium job live in the county.
That's 28% — well below the benchmark government officials set in approving the nearly $3 billion deal for a new, 37,000-capacity ballpark for the soon-to-be Miami Marlins.
Local lawmakers asked that 50% of workers on the ballpark construction job be Miami-Dade residents, and that 20% of those be Miamians.
They also put in place oversight and protection measures such as hiring an outreach administrator to help achieve local and small business goals and to audit hiring records.
But because attorneys say requiring hiring percentages could lead to legal challenges, the numbers are simply aspirations.
And, it's unclear whether the percentages apply to each contractor and subcontractor individually, or to the total number of employees on the massive construction job, set to be complete in 2012.
"It was never discussed or specified," Mr. Regalado said Tuesday.
Attorneys from the county and city did not return calls for clarification, nor did Miami-Dade Small Business Development Director Penelope Townsley, who the inspector general asked to handle the mayor's inquiry and whose department is charged with conducting such reviews.
But the technicalities are not the issue, Mr. Regalado said.
"I understand that these numbers are aspirational, but I just want to see a good-faith gesture on the part of the organizationů My point is that the project was sold to the people of Miami and to the people of the county with the promise of thousands of jobs," he said. "No one even bothered to explain that this could be at the end [of construction], at the middle — but that's not the point. The point is that the people of Miami and the people of the county were misguided."
His intent in pushing the issue is not to derail stadium construction, Mr. Regalado said, but to ensure a promise is kept.
"I'm all for building the stadium, but I think that they need to comply because if we are partners, we should be partners," he said. "My issue is not the technicalities. They can explain whatever they want. But I'm saying on behalf of the unemployed workers of Miami: show me the money."
Rallying behind the stadium construction project as a jobs generator in a down economy, local lawmakers asked for hiring benchmarks in approving the ballpark deal earlier this year.
Worked into the contracts is an "aspirational goal to have as many local workers and local firms as reasonably practical, to have at least 50% of the baseball stadium project workers be residents of Miami-Dade County and 20% of which would be Miami residents," City Manager Pete Hernandez said in pitching the deal to city commissioners in March.
At the time, then-commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones questioned why the totals couldn't be requirements.
Explained City Attorney Julie Bru: "narrowly tailoring it as such as a goal will withstand any legal challenge."
Officials acknowledged outright that certain tasks would require specialists from outside the area.
At the county vote on the stadium deal in March, Ken Johnson, a vice president with stadium construction team Hunt/Moss, said some elements, such as scoreboards or the planned retractable roof, require highly specialized workers, but "in almost all cases" the company hires local subcontractors.
Marlins President David Samson pledged at the meeting to include more local workers than the deal asks for.
"We are trying to get as close to 100% as possible," he said in March.
Mayor Regalado, a city commissioner at the time, said Tuesday that he hasn't forgotten.
"My point wasn't about violation of the contract," he said. "My point was about what was promised to the people."