Major League Baseball youth academy in Hialeah still on bench
By Rachel Tannenbaum
The City of Hialeah continues to move forward a long-stalled Urban Youth Baseball Academy by taking the remaining steps to receiving a green light from the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Development and financing from Major League Baseball.
Under a January 2009 memorandum of understanding between the City of Hialeah and Major League Baseball, a youth baseball academy is to rise within city limits, with Major League Baseball financing up to $3.2 million of it.
The new Miami Marlins Stadium and the academy were supposed to be built simultaneously, but the stadium is approaching an April opening and the academy has yet to break ground. Yet, a Hialeah city official said the project is moving forward.
William Grodnick, city attorney, said the city met with Frank Robinson from Major League Baseball in November for reaffirmation.
"We showed Major League Baseball the plan and they liked it and the architecture," Mr. Grodnick said. "They liked how everything will be laid out."
Although construction has yet to start, Mr. Grodnick said the first quarter of 2012 is dedicated to securing the property.
The site was previously a construction- and demolition-degree landfill and the whole parcel must be cleared by the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resource Management [DERM] before any project on the land can move forward.
Luis Espinoza, communications program manager for environmental resource management, said via email, "Following up on our phone conversation, records indicate that as of today we have not received an application for construction of the Urban Youth Baseball Academy at the site in question. As we have stated before, there are some environmental concerns that need to be addressed at this location, and we look forward to working closely with the City of Hialeah on their plans for this site as soon as we receive their application."
Approvals needed from DERM include the reverse-osmosis water plant planned on the 500-acre property, 60 acres of which would be used for the academy. Mr. Grodnick said the land use for the academy is to be transferred from private development firm Flagler to the City of Hialeah.
"The entitlement process is moving along and almost complete," said Rafael Rodon, a Flagler executive vice president.
The site of the future academy sits west of I-75 and just east of Florida's Turnpike at Northwest 36th Avenue and Northwest 87th Street in Hialeah
"It should be secure in the next three to six months," Mr. Grodnick said.
The youth baseball academy has faced many speed bumps, including political turmoil, environmental concerns and the economic downturn.
In an interview last September, Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball development for Major League Baseball, said plans to move forward would advance after Hialeah's November elections.
Carlos Hernandez defeated Raul Martinez in the mayoral race and has since met with Mr. Solomon.
"They met briefly and had a productive meeting," said Arnie Alonso, a representative for Mayor Hernandez.
Mr. Grodnick said they are both now acquainted and that hopefully plans will continue to move forward.
"The city is committed to constructing the academy," Mr. Grodnick said. "We are in final agreement with Major League Baseball to set up construction and funding."
Mr. Solomon also said the project should now be able to move forward.
"I met with the mayor and the city attorney in the beginning of January and they were very supportive and well versed. You could tell it's a top priority," Mr. Solomon said. "As soon as the paperwork is lined up we'll be ready to go, I'm hoping in the next month or so."
During their meeting, Mr. Solomon said he felt everyone was on board with full-speed ahead. Although he left with a good feeling, he said, he got the impression that the mayor had a lot on his plate.
"He needs to prioritize, but I am very optimistic," he said.
The academy, which is to offer free sports and education programs to youths age 7 to 18 in Greater Miami, serves as a way for the City of Hialeah to still reap benefits from the construction of a Marlins stadium after a Hialeah site was passed over in favor of the former Orange Bowl site near downtown.
It's to include a show field with a scoreboard, dugouts and lights, seating for 700 fans and space an additional 1,800 and four softball/Little League fields, among other features, according to a Major League Baseball release. At least 2,500 youths are expected to participate in the academy's programs during its first year.
The academy is to be open year around, offering local children free softball and baseball instruction.
In addition to sports offerings, the academy is to afford those who are less sports minded opportunities to participate in free seminars on "umpiring, athletic field management, scouting and player development, sports and broadcast journalism, public relations and statistics," according to the release.
The first Major League Baseball youth academy opened in Compton, CA, in 2006, followed behind the third pitched, but second completed, youth academy in Houston in April 2010.
In September 2010, Major League announced plans to construct a fourth academy in Philadelphia and has also yet to break ground. An agreement in June 2011 between Major League Baseball and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu announce the fifth academy at Wesley Barrow Stadium in Pontchartrain Park.
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