Major League Baseball's promised Hialeah teen academy may get a 'play ball'
By Jacquelyn Weiner
Meetings this week could help move forward a long-stalled project for youths that Major League Baseball pledged in connection for the now-rising Marlins stadium.
Under a January 2009 memorandum of understanding between the City of Hialeah and Major League Baseball, a youth baseball academy is to rise within city limits, with Major League Baseball financing in part up to $3.2 million.
Since then, a more-detailed agreement that was to follow has yet to be inked and the project hasn't broken ground.
"We haven't reached that agreement," said Bill Grodnick, Hialeah city attorney. "The economic downturn and the fiscal issues confronting every local government entity have taken precedence."
Mr. Grodnick added that the city is meeting with Major League Baseball this week to discuss the project and that Hialeah still plans to move forward with its development.
According to the memorandum of understanding, "a more detailed agreement setting out, amongst other items, the obligations of the Parties would be negotiated and entered into" after construction of the Marlins stadium began.
"Upon execution of the final stadium agreements and the commencement of construction of the ballpark at the Orange Bowl site, [Major League Baseball and the City of Hialeah] propose to establish the Hialeah Urban Youth Baseball Academy," according to the memorandum.
The academy is to include a baseball field with a scoreboard, grandstand seating, dugouts and lights, two softball fields, two youth fields, batting cages and pitching mounds, according to the memorandum.
"The Academy would be designed to serve annually more than 2,500 underprivileged South Florida youth," according to the memorandum.
The memorandum states that the academy "would be constructed in the City of Hialeah," but does not outline a specific location.
It also stipulates that Major League Baseball and Hialeah "would enter into a strategic partnership relating to the construction, operation and future programming of the Academy."
Hialeah's commitments in the project, according to the memorandum, include constructing the facility in accordance with designs by urban design and architecture firm Civica, financing certain costs above Major League Baseball's up to $3.2 million, staffing and maintenance.
Major League Baseball's commitments include paying the up-to $3.2 million toward construction, helping Hialeah find a director for the facility and assisting with special programming at the academy, such as free training clinics and camps.
Since the 2009 memorandum was signed, the site for the academy has been established at Northwest 97th Avenue and Northwest 154th Street, part of a 500-acre parcel owned by Flagler Development.
Hialeah City Attorney Mr. Grodnick said he expects the parcel will become city property in three to six months.
The property also has unique environmental concerns that have contributed to development delays.
The site was previously a construction- and demolition-degree landfill, Rafael Rodon, an executive vice president with Flagler, has said.
The whole parcel must be cleared by the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resource Management before any project on the land can move forward.
Mr. Grodnick said he doesn't foresee the city needing to do extensive environmental work on its portion of the property.
Publicly announced in January 2009, the youth baseball academy was scheduled to break ground that year, according to a Major League Baseball news release.
The academy was pitched as "a component of the new Marlins stadium project," according to the release. The Marlins stadium is nearing opening day in April.
In a recent interview, Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball development for Major League Baseball, attributed delays to political changes in Hialeah, the economic downturn and the lack of environmental approval of the academy site.
Mr. Solomon said Major League Baseball plans to move forward with the project after Hialeah's November elections and that the academy is being actively discussed:
"We have been in constant contact with the city attorney."
To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e -Miami Today, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.