Major League Baseball's youth academy can't get to first base
By Scott Blake
It was supposed to be a deal to benefit teens: Build a youth baseball academy in Miami-Dade County as a form of payback for the public financing that built the Miami Marlins' new stadium.
Yet, more than three years after the academy was included in the stadium contract, nothing but trees and brush cover the site in Hialeah designated for ballfields.
The reason: Coral Gables-based real estate firm Flagler, which owns the land, and the City of Hialeah haven't been able to reach an arrangement.
However, there could be progress on the horizon: Flagler representatives and Hialeah officials are expected to meet in coming weeks in hopes of sealing an agreement on the land selected for the academy.
"I was told that the Flagler folks and Hialeah's mayor and other city officials are planning to meet again in the next couple of weeks," said Mary Sudasassi, an outside publicist for Flagler. "By then, Flagler may have some news to share."
Meanwhile, Major League Baseball, which was part of the agreement, said it stands ready to provide $3 million for the project as soon as Flagler and Hialeah officials work out a deal.
"We selected Hialeah as a future site of an MLB urban youth academy because we recognized a need in the community for a facility of this nature and a deep talent pool of young men and women who could benefit from this future academy," Major League Baseball spokesman Steven Arocho told Miami Today this week.
Hialeah City Attorney Bill Grodnick said Flagler and the city have been in negotiations for the land, with the expectation the company would give the land to the city.
"We're still working on it," Mr. Grodnick said, adding about the delays: "It's nobody fault."
Once land is secured for the project, he said, "we should be able to develop it in a year."
If an agreement cannot be reached with Flagler, he added, the city could look for another site for the academy.
Major League Baseball, meanwhile, has been working on designs for the academy. "We have had an architect already design the facility so the process is moving along," Mr. Arocho said.
The plan will now come under the purview of Baseball Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who recently replaced Jimmie Lee Solomon as Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball development. Mr. Robinson hasn't yet addressed the academy, Mr. Arocho said.
"It was just announced last week that he is taking this new role with us," he said about Mr. Robinson. "He is just being brought up to speed on everything."
Regarding the land negotiations between the city and Flagler, Mr. Arocho said: "Hialeah's city manager is in the process of obtaining, and is awaiting a finalized agreement" for the site.
Apart from the planned Hialeah complex, the league currently operates urban youth academies in Compton, CA, Houston, TX, and Gurabo, Puerto Rico.
Also, construction has started on an academy in New Orleans, and plans have been announced for another in Philadelphia.
Mr. Arocho said the league's money for the Hialeah project "remains allocated and will be available when construction gets underway."
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