Major League Baseball's youth academy in Florida Marlins stadium deal still just a dream
By Jacquelyn Weiner
Political turmoil, environmental concerns and the economic downturn have delayed progress on a promised Hialeah Major League Baseball Urban Youth Baseball Academy, a Major League Baseball executive said.
Announced in January 2009, the academy was to break ground that year, according to a Major League Baseball news release.
Major League also pledged $3 million toward construction.
The academy was pitched as "a component of the new Marlins stadium project," according to the release, issued months before county commissioners approved contracts for the Marlins stadium now rising in Little Havana.
The Marlins stadium is to be filled with fans in April, but construction of the youth baseball academy has yet to move forward.
Several outside events have delayed the project, said Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball development for Major League Baseball.
A key issue he cited: Hialeah may soon have new leadership, as the mayor's post is up for election in November.
"We thought it was a little foolhardy… to try to move forward before next November's mayor's election," Mr. Solomon said.
Other factors included the economic downturn, during which "a lot of our priorities kind of shifted," and delays due to environmental approvals.
The academy site sits on a 500-acre property owned by Flagler Development with unique environmental concerns, as it was previously a construction- and demolition-degree landfill, Rafael Rodon, an executive vice president with Flagler, has said.
The whole parcel must be cleared by the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resource Management before any project on the land can move forward.
Once the land is cleared for development and the November Hialeah election passes, the project can progress, Mr. Solomon said.
"We're ready to go forward with our part," he said.
After their groundbreaking, the youth academies Major League Baseball has built elsewhere have taken one-and-a-half to two years to build, he said.
The City of Hialeah is also committed to constructing the academy, Arnie Alonso, a representative from Mayor Carlos Hernandez's office, wrote via e-mail.
"Mayor Carlos Hernandez continues to work diligently alongside representatives of Major League Baseball on the Youth Baseball Academy in the City of Hialeah," Mr. Alonso wrote.
As planned, the baseball academy sits on a lakeside parcel at Northwest 97th Avenue and Northwest 154th Street that Hialeah formerly had pitched as a site for the Marlins stadium.
It's to offer free sports and education programs to area youth ages 7 to 18.
The facility is to include a show field with a scoreboard, dugouts and lights, seating for 700 fans and space for an additional 1,800, and four softball/Little League fields, among other features, according to the Major League Baseball release.
The Hialeah youth facility was the second Urban Youth Baseball Academy announced by Major League Baseball following the opening of the first academy in Compton, CA, in 2006.
Since then, an urban youth academy in Houston — which was announced the same month as the Hialeah facility — opened in April 2010.
In September 2010, Major League announced plans to construct a fourth academy in Philadelphia.
That project has seen its own delays, according to a May article in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The article points out that the Philadelphia academy hadn't broken ground almost eight months after it was announced.
But "Hey, it could be worse," the article reads. "They announced an Urban Youth Academy for Hialeah, FL, in January 2009 and 28 months later, all they have is a set of blueprints gathering dust."
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