Major League Baseball's Hialeah youth hub still benched
By Rachel Tannenbaum
Major League Baseball still pledges its commitment to the long-stalled Urban Youth Baseball Academy in Hialeah, says a league executive.
But big league baseball says it is currently awaiting a green light from the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Development and for the land to be transferred from a private developer to the city.
"As of right now, the city of Hialeah and developer of the project are awaiting a finalized agreement for the previously announced site's 60 acres of land, which includes the carve out land for the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Hialeah," said Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball development for Major League Baseball, in an email. "We expect this finalized agreement to arrive within the coming months."
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.
"Funding for the project remains allocated and will be available when construction gets underway," Mr. Solomon said,
The youth academy was promised in the deal that brought public financing to the new Miami Marlins stadium. The stadium and the academy were supposed to rise simultaneously, but the stadium opened April 4 and the academy has yet to break ground.
The site for the ballpark was previously a construction- and demolition-degree landfill, and the whole parcel must be cleared by the Miami-Dade County Permitting, Environment and Regulatory Affairs Department before any project on the land can move forward.
Luis Espinoza, communications program manager for environmental resource management, said his response today is the same as one he sent to Miami Today on Jan. 31.
In that email, Mr. Espinoza said: "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 the department include one for a reverse-osmosis water plant planned on the 500-acre property, 60 acres of which would be used for the academy.
William Grodnick, city attorney, said the city is finalizing the development agreement and it is expected to secure the land, subject to council approval, within 30 to 45 days.
The land to be used for the academy is to be transferred from private development firm Flagler to the City of Hialeah. In terms of the land title process moving forward, Rafael Rodon, a Flagler executive vice president said, "just a little further along and almost there."
In June, Mr. Grodnick said, the city can recommence negotiations towards a final agreement to develop the site with Major League Baseball.
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. The youth baseball academy has faced many speed bumps, including political turmoil, environmental concerns and the economic downturn.
In an interview last September, Mr. Solomon of Major League Baseball said plans would advance after Hialeah's November elections.
Carlos Hernandez defeated Raul Martinez in the mayoral race and has since met with Mr. Solomon.
The academy, which is to offer free sports and education programs to Greater Miami youths ages 7 to 18, serves as a way for Hialeah to still reap benefits from the construction of the Marlins stadium after a Hialeah site was passed over in favor of the former Orange Bowl site in Little Havana near downtown Miami.
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 by the third proposed — 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 also has yet to break ground. An agreement in June 2011 between Major League Baseball and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced the fifth academy at Wesley Barrow Stadium in Pontchartrain Park.
As for when the Hialeah site will open, Mr. Solomon said there now is no specific target year in mind for completion.
"But we are hopeful to get started and subsequently finish the job as soon as possible," he added. "We are committed."
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