Ultimate irony: Buying Miami Herald's home to build vast casino
By Michael Lewis
Irony of ironies, it is the media company that once was the bastion that prevented gambling from running wild in Miami that has opened wide the door and laid out the welcome mat to a massive casino.
And the Miami Herald's California parent, the McClatchy Co., which collects $236 million in the deal, is the one to profit.
When McClatchy announced Friday that it was selling its Omni area industrial land and the Herald's building upon it to Genting Malaysia Berhad, the Asian casino giant that plans a resort complex reliant upon gambling there, you had to stop and wish Alvah Chapman had been with us.
The late Mr. Chapman, who ran both the Herald's parent Knight-Ridder and the civic community of Greater Miami, was a fervent anti-gambling powerhouse who used moral suasion coupled with the power of the press to keep out gambling.
Much of his opposition was riveted in the firm belief that gambling would convert the community forever into something it was not and shouldn't be.
Much of his opposition was also a firm religious conviction against gambling and what it would do to our moral fabric.
And some of that opposition might or might not have stemmed from the knowledge that gambling was just not good for the business community upon which the Miami Herald depended.
It was his firm backbone, coupled with his civic and business leadership in controlling what was the dominant local news medium, that kept Miami growing in a healthy direction and kept at bay frequent forays from gambling interests.
But that was then, when the Herald was a moral force — or any kind of force — and this is now, when parent McClatchy is desperate for money to pay down its debts and it can find less-valuable quarters elsewhere. Opposition to gambling — a long-held Herald position — is far less important than the almighty and very scarce buck.
Of course, it would scarcely be logical to expect the Herald, having sold the land to gambling interests with the right to remain there rent-free for the next two years while it looks for new quarters, to now oppose opening South Florida to luxury casinos. Herald editors must feel a teensy bit compromised in choosing their positions or in investigating what gambling might do here.
Also compromised a bit are the folks who run the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, who have already cut a deal to run a 700-seat theater at Genting's new resort next door. Don't expect them to oppose gambling in the neighborhood, either.
In fact, the fix already seems to be in. Gambling is likely to roll quickly through government, fueled by Genting's promise to spend $2 billion and up on development of the site very quickly with a gambling OK, or far more slowly without it.
It will be of interest to see whether gambling foes who so far have protected Miami Beach from the social devastation of casino life will also step up to oppose gambling just across the causeways or whether they will sit this one out, knowing that Genting plans a convention center too that would save them the cost of modernizing their own, a needed upgrade on which the legislature missed the boat.
Of course, history is on Genting's side: the site of the Herald building was once the home of a gambling club. Miami was a gambling hotbed in the 1930s and 1940s, and it took a 1950s federal investigation with vital help from the daily press to clean it up — igniting at the same time an economic expansion that has continued up until today.
Now the press that helped clean up Miami is helping to restore disorder. Isn't that what Alvah Chapman would have said?
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