Sony Open team back in court
Written by Scott Blake on April 2, 2014
After hosting battles between the world’s top tennis players, it’s back to court this week for organizers of the annual Sony Open for a battle of their own: improving their longtime venue on Key Biscayne.
Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Marc Schumacher was set for a hearing today (4/3) on a lawsuit by the Open’s organizers that aims to do away with regulatory roadblocks to their multimillion-dollar plan for county-owned Crandon Park Tennis Center.
Sony Open organizers International Players Championship, a local affiliate of IMG Worldwide, have named Crandon Park activist Bruce Matheson, the county, and others as defendants in the suit. Judge Schumacher was expected to take up a motion by the defendants to dismiss the case.
Gene Stearns, lead attorney for the organizers, said his team has uncovered new information about the history of land ownership and transactions at the site of Crandon Park Tennis Center. He said the findings bolster the plaintiffs’ contention that Mr. Matheson and the regulatory hurdles that he helped set up at the park in the past should carry no authority over the site.
Mr. Matheson’s family donated land that later became Crandon Park to the county in 1940 in exchange for the county building a causeway to Key Biscayne.
Mr. Stearns said his team was planning to introduce the new information about the history of the site to the court as part of its case.
The two-week 2014 Sony Open concluded Sunday with Novak Djokovic, the No. 2-ranked player in the world, winning the men’s single title over No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal.
The Open’s organizers have been wanting to make improvements to the tennis center at an estimated cost of $30 million to $50 million, which would be paid from tournament-generated revenues, IMG spokesman Sam Henderson said in a statement last week in response to questions from Miami Today.
Organizers so far have cleared some hurdles: gaining more than two-thirds approval of the project by county voters in November 2012, entering a development agreement with the county, and defeating a lawsuit to stop the project by Mr. Matheson, although he has filed for an appeal.
Still, organizers must contend with a four-member committee, including Mr. Matheson, that oversees the park, as well as the park’s master plan that Mr. Matheson helped craft 21 years ago as part of a settlement of another lawsuit he filed over the park.
Mr. Stearns said organizers hope to have the court invalidate the committee, the master plan and Mr. Matheson’s authority to oversee the park.
“The tournament does not believe it will be prevented from doing the project and to consider any other options for the future would be premature,” Mr. Henderson said.
Mr. Henderson said attendance at this year’s tournament was on track to surpass 300,000 for the fifth consecutive year. He said the March 17 to 30 event was broadcast on television in 194 countries and territories, including ESPN and the Tennis Channel in the US.
“The economic impact of upgrading the facility and extending the tournament’s lease with the county is $386 million a year,” he added, “which is equivalent to a Super Bowl.”