Parking, boxing and the Grove playhouse aren't playthings
By Michael Lewis
We'd be far better off if governments grappled with vital problems and didn't create new ones by sticking fingers where they've no business meddling.
Cases in point are Miami's call to retool a well-oiled Miami Parking Authority, Miami-Dade's bid to be entrepreneur in an untested boxing arena and county officials' push to stage a new Coconut Grove Playhouse.
The parking authority feeds millions each year into city coffers. But the city has put on the Nov. 2 ballot a vote to hand authority jobs, real estate and revenues to elected officials to toy with.
Boxing is dying, but the county sports commission seeks to run a franchise in an untried global league. Prior to any vote or signed contract, a press release made it a done deal.
Outside suitors woo the playhouse, closed four years, but the county wants to grab its home, build a much smaller theater under county control and then hand the whole thing to a small independent theater producer.
Each misbegotten issue could enmesh taxpayers in tangles that don't imperil us now. In business argot, they have very strong downsides and weak upsides.
And while, unlike the others, a strong independent playhouse could help the community, governments have no business stepping into any of these bogs hiding pits of quicksand.
The issues are complex, perhaps befuddling for elected officials, but principles are clear:
Principle One: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Principle Two: If it's too badly broken, don't get bogged down in it.
Principle Three: Leave projects requiring expertise to experts.
The parking authority falls under Principle One. It chugs along smoothly, planning and developing parking under a board and budget approved by the city commission.
Last year the authority gave the city $2 million of its $23 million take. The city expects $7 million this year. The authority builds parking the city needs to function and grow. Best of all, it's had no disasters, no scandals.
But the authority has lots of revenue, garages and land that officials covet. Hence, next month's referendum to kill the authority and hand it all to City Hall.
While parking isn't broken now, it well could break under mayor-and-commission control. They might fire those in charge and bring in at lower cost city staff or friends who aren't parking professionals — pennywise but quarter-foolish for this cash generator.
Hand over the tools, let city hall crawl under the hood to tinker and we'll soon need major repairs. Voters should leave well-enough alone when other city affairs really need fixing.
Principle Two, if it's too badly broken don't try to fix it, applies to boxing, where fixing has long been the illegal name of the game.
First, the county hasn't expertise. Second, it doesn't have a contract. Third, neither the sports commission nor county commission has approved the deal.
But fourth, the sports commission put out a press release Friday announcing the team name Miami Gallos, that its Executive Director Mike Sophia is also team general manager and that the season begins Nov. 16 with bouts in AmericanAirlines Arena.
Now that's plain stupid.
The sports commission is charged with helping sports build the economy, not doing paid work for teams. (County Manager George Burgess deserves pay from the Marlins for getting them a $3 billion ballpark. But at least there were contracts — worst ever, but contracts — and commissioners approved them unread.)
Truth is, the county can't save boxing, and even if it tried it shouldn't be on the hook running the operation.
As for the Miami Gallos name, why link us to cockfighting, which is even bloodier than boxing and illegal to boot?
A lightweight sports commission in heavyweight international competition is fighting far out of its weight class.
Then there's the Coconut Grove Playhouse, where Principle Three calls for experts, not the county's Department of Cultural Affairs, revered for dribbling out public cash to arts groups but hardly expert in developing an entity or construction.
Yet Mr. Burgess wants the county to grab the $4 million debt-burdened playhouse (full disclosure: some of those debts are due to Miami Today), dissolve its board, build a 300-seat playhouse and then install a good little nonprofit theater to carry on.
The Department of Cultural Affairs does have a track record, of sorts: it's building the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay. Work began almost five years ago and "substantial completion" is now targeted Dec. 3, almost three years late. After that comes outfitting and preparing to open, perhaps late next year — the county finally stopped predicting when that might be.
The county also took charge of building the Arsht Center downtown, about $300 million over initial budget and also years late.
And these are the folks who want to run another arts center, though local experts like the Arsht Center's current team have actual expertise and interest.
How should these senseless incursions play out?
Miami voters should leave the authority in charge of parking and city hall in charge of deficits rather than merge the two and create a larger deficit.
The county commission as referee should rule the sports commission committed a below-the-belt foul in taking over a boxing franchise without weighing in the contract or getting formal approval to climb into the ring.
The commission should also yank Mr. Burgess and the Cultural Affairs Department off Coconut Grove's stage. Why pour in $20 million in bond funds to let the county bungle the job? A large theater could be an asset, but the county's 300-seat concept misses the mark and its record is poor. Let the experts do it.
Everybody wants a toy, and what could be more fun than playing your own 31,000-space parking game or running your own boxing team or little theater?
But in days of tight funds and too much to do, governments are playing outside their league.
It's not a game. Parking isn't broken. Boxing is too badly broken for the county to fix. And the playhouse needs actors on stage far more convincing than county hall amateurs.
A bold suggestion for government: How about just doing properly the jobs you have?