As Miami Jai-Alai plans casino expansion, city targets annexation
By Jacquelyn Weiner
On the heels of Miami Jai-Alai's $87 million casino-expansion announcement, Miami City Commissioners are to today (5/12) discuss annexing its surroundings.
The addition would bring into the City of Miami the Melrose area, bordered by Northwest 42nd Avenue on the west, the Airport Expressway (State Road 112) on the north and the city's current boundaries of Northwest 27th Avenue on the east and Northwest 20th Street to the south.
This would also encompass the area surrounding Miami Jai-Alai, 3500 NW 37th Ave., which sits at the western edge of the City of Miami.
If it moves forward, the land annexation would be Miami's first since 1963 and the second in its history, Suzy Trutie, Miami-Dade County's assistant director of communications, wrote in an e-mail. Annexations must be OK'd by voters.
"I believe it should be a natural for that area," said Miami commission chairman and area Commissioner Wifredo "Willy" Gort, who is bringing the issue up as a discussion item today.
Adding the area to Miami isn't a new idea, he said, as it was studied several years ago but not acted on.
Mr. Gort said annexing Melrose into the city could help spur growth along the Northwest 36th Street corridor.
"Anything that can do that would be very helpful to our whole area," Mr. Gort said. "At one time, 36th Street used to be a downtown."
The area previously thrived alongside the traffic passing through to Miami International Airport, he said, but the construction of the Airport Expressway (State Road 112) "killed it."
In addition, Mr. Gort said, annexing Melrose would streamline area law enforcement.
As for the amount of revenue the new area could bring to the city, Mr. Gort said he hadn't reviewed property-tax figures for the targeted area.
He also said he was bringing up the issue of his own accord and that it wasn't being pushed by any particular business or resident.
However, Jai-Alai's expansion does play a role.
In an e-mail on the Melrose annexation discussion to city officials, Mr. Gort's chief of staff Frank Castaneda wrote that "Even though Jai Alai is in the City the surrounding properties are not. Jai Alai is presently getting ready to be redeveloped and this annexation would assist in the further development of this area."
A newspaper article on Miami Jai-Alai's planned expansion was attached to the message.
Florida Gaming Corp., which owns Miami Jai-Alai, is not taking a stance on the annexation issue, said Rene Guim, an equity partner with Miami Casino Management.
Miami Casino has been contracted to develop and manage Miami Jai-Alai's casino.
Work on the expansion is to begin in the next six weeks, Mr. Guim said, and is to add 35,000 square feet wrapped around the side of the current facility.
A groundbreaking ceremony is to be held May 18.
Upgrades are to include a casino floor with 1,000 new slot machines, upgraded entertainment amenities and 1,500 parking spaces, according to a news release.
It's being financed with an $87 million term loan.
Miami Jai-Alai is the third facility in Miami-Dade County - along with Magic City Casino at the old Flagler Dog Track and Calder Casino and Race Course - to take advantage of a measure approved by voters in January 2008 that permits Las Vegas-style slot machines at area pari-mutuels.
However, Miami Jai-Alai is the only pari-mutuel in the country with dominos visitors can bet on, Mr. Guim said.
He added: "We hope to bring it back to the same grandeur that it was back in its heyday."
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