Sports authority director seen healing old arena wounds
By Paola Iuspa
Years of strained relations between owners of the Miami Arena and the group that manages it could be coming to an end under a new executive director.
James Jenkins, the 10th executive director in the history of the 12-year-old Miami Sports & Exhibition Authority, the arena's landlord, said he is pursuing a "synergistic partnership" with SMG, the management company. And, Robert Franklin, SMG's general manager, said he welcomed Mr. Jenkins.
"I am glad the Miami Sports & Exhibition Authority has an aggressive and experienced executive director who is not a political choice," said Mr. Franklin, who had been managing the arena for almost a decade.
The city sports authority, he said, "used to be too political."
Mr. Jenkins, who started with the authority five months ago and but was confirmed by the Miami City Commission only last week, said he would use his 18 years of experience with Walt Disney World Co. to increase revenues and attendance.
"I bring to the table expertise in entertainment marketing and brand developing," Mr. Jenkins said. "I learned how to develop new programs to increase attendance."
He said he moved to Miami a year ago after his wife accepted a management position with Marriott Corp. in Weston.
Mr. Jenkins, who said he helped with the promotion and marketing of Disney's Pleasure Island, Village Marketplace and Downtown Disney, and after that, was director of marketing for Harrah's Casino in Kansas City in 1998.
Marianne Salazar, a sports authority board member, said she had supported Mr. Jenkins for the executive position because he had no political ties and has years of expertise.
Studying old programs to enhance them, developing community events and creating new types of opportunities such as putting the arena to commercial use are his strategies, Mr. Jenkins said.
A year after the NBA's Miami Heat left the arena to move to its new home in American Airlines Arena off Biscayne Boulevard, the authority and SMG began promoting the venue as a intimate place for family shows and Latin American concerts, which can require less than 15,000 seats, Mr. Franklin said.
The arena has 15,000 seats and opened in 1988.
"Some shows and artists like the feeling of intimacy you get from a smaller arena," Mr. Franklin said. "We are a venue for those who can not fill big arenas."
Some people are confused about the purpose of the arena, Mr. Franklin said. He said Miami Arena had not been "created for or by the Heat.
"It was not supposed to be a money machine for any private franchise," he said. "It was made for people to have a place to see the circus and have concerts."
Commissioner Johnny Winton, sports authority vice chairman, said Mr. Jenkin's background would help make a difference.
"He not only has the experience, but also he wants to use the contacts he has to use the arena," Mr. Winton told commissioners last week. "He already created an initiative group that recruited Wendy's to use the arena" for a TV commercial.
Mr. Franklin said the fast-food restaurant officials had made more bookings to film other commercials on the site while Mr. Winton said Mr. Jenkins' efforts had already covered the $85,000 the executive director makes annually.
Mr. Jenkins said his job called for creating promotional programs that generate revenues and serve the community.
He said multicultural events and shows such as Disney On Ice, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Barney shows and University of Miami basketball games dominate the landscape now, with attendance projected at 476,000 by year's end.
About 389,000 attended programs in the arena last year, excluding Miami Heat games held before the new arena opened.
Mr. Franklin said he was also pursuing a boxing match between lightweight champions Acelino Freitas and Joel Casamayor in July but the arena was competing for the match with casinos in Las Vegas.
The arena is projected to bring $2.5 million in revenues and cost $2.9 million in expenses for the fiscal year ending in October, Mr. Franklin said.
For the near future, the goal is for the arena at least to break even, if not make a profit through the new types of attractions.
The difference between profits and revenues this year will be absorbed by the sports authority's accumulative $2.6 million capital improvement and operating deficit account, said Ferey Kian, finance director.
Creating shows such as the Magical Holiday Celebration, free ice-skating and storytelling, is also part of Mr. Jenkins' job, he said.
Commissioner Arthur Teele told Mr. Jenkins to make sure to give full credit to the sports authority when organizing community events because many of them had been promoted in a way that people thought some city officials were the sponsors.
"I don't expect MESA to become a cash cow for political agendas," Mr. Teele said.
The sports authority runs on a yearly budget of $750,000, all coming from the county's convention development tax, Mr. Kian said.
He said it was paying $4 million yearly in debt service to cover the $37 million it still owes and gets $1.3 million yearly to replenish its operating account.
"We receive one-third of the 3% the county gets in convention tax," Mr. Kian said. "The amount of money we get increases every year. What we don't use goes back to the county, as it was established at the time the bonds were issued."
Mr. Kian said the Miami Sports & Exhibition Authority's reserves were enough to weather a lawsuit that Decoma Miami Associates, another governing body that owns the arena's management rights, brought against the Miami Sports & Exhibition Authority.
Last June the authority agreed to pay $10.5 million to Decoma to settle a breach of contract dispute over the use of money allocated for the arena's maintenance, Mr. Kian said.
Mr. Jenkins said the arena was not going to go out of business because no major leagues were using the venue.
"There are numbers of arenas throughout the states that do not have a major sport franchise and do very well," he said.