What goes around comes around–over and over and over
Written by Michael Lewis on July 9, 2014
Miami news stories don’t end – they merely hibernate. Periodically, they return as reruns for a new audience.
That repetition was highlighted when I cleaned off a bookshelf and found an April 25, 1991, copy of Miami Today revealing headlines we could have written last week.
The main front-page article, “Miami stepping up pace to redevelop bayfront,” focused on the site that’s just been in a control tussle between former soccer star David Beckham and the City of Miami.
In 1991 the city, working with its Downtown Development Authority and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, was trying to develop land around the deep water boat slip that Mr. Beckham has sought to fill in. At play was a sports stadium for part of the site – though back then it was to be for baseball, not soccer.
Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez – who today as County Commissioner Xavier Suarez wants to preserve the site and put a soccer stadium elsewhere – was in 1991 trying to create a green passive park there, calling the site an embarrassment.
As for what to put there, would-be developers favored almost anything but a park. Including the requisite baseball stadium, listed were theaters, entertainment, restaurants, culture, historical and educational attractions, a marina, a cruise port, marine excursions and sightseeing services – anything to fill the waterfront with something.
That fill-it-up mentality lingers: pack the bayfront with as much as possible. We did get art and science museums on part of the site since 1991, but the rest remains very much in play, with everything from soccer to a Cuban exile museum looking to cover any waterfront that still offers a view of the bay.
The 1991 redevelopment had one sticking point: the city had used $23 million from a Parks for People Bonds Program to buy the land as a park and was trying to see just how much development it could get away with without endangering the tax-free status of the outstanding bonds.
As today, however, more than one stadium was in the news that week. On page 3 was a rendering of what was to become the International Tennis Center on Key Biscayne – but it faced a rough road to reality, including legal action by Bruce Matheson and his family, heirs to the site’s donors to the county.
Attorney Gene Stearns was in the thick of the fight, representing the community in a suit to limit stadium use. He said car traffic from such a large stadium would exceed permissible levels. “They’re building at their own risk,” he said.
Today, tennis center expansion is again in court – but this time Mr. Stearns is playing on the expansion side, opposing Mr. Matheson as the center’s operators seek a vast growth in the 1990s facilities to add more permanent structures.
Both in 1991 and today, expansion of the Key Biscayne tennis center – like the bayfront land downtown – has been complicated by earlier agreements that could limit growth.
In the case of Key Biscayne, a barrier in 1991 was in covenants from the Matheson family land grant. Today, expansion is complicated by a four-person oversight panel created to preserve the land after the 1991 fight.
Another headline from April 25, 1991, could well have been written in 2014: “Brazilians pump life into local real estate market.”
How familiar over the years the first sentence: “Facing economic instability at home, many Brazilians are channeling funds into Miami.” If we substituted “Venezuelans” or any of a half-dozen other nationalities in the sentence, such a story surely was written several times this year.
Only one article in that newspaper, in fact, is sure never to come around again: the City of Miami was in a bidding struggle to rehabilitate the Orange Bowl. That story ended for good when the city razed the bowl. The bowl then was replaced – in a deal that left egg on government’s face – by the baseball stadium that in 1991 was ticketed for the much-coveted bayfront land.
But even the baseball deal comes around again.
County commissioners, who seldom mention the Marlins stadium lease without a disclaimer that operators Jeffrey Loria and David Samson snookered them, have just signed another lease with Mr. Loria, Mr. Samson and the Marlins for a store at Miami International Airport.
Some news should hibernate a lot longer.