MLB academy site hunt in extra innings
Five years after the deal to publicly finance construction of Marlins Park in Little Havana and with the Marlins now in their third season at their new stadium, Major League Baseball still hasn’t settled on a site for a local youth baseball academy.
The league was focusing last fall on a county park in Hialeah, but that site hasn’t panned out yet so several sites are still being considered, said Major League Baseball executive Darrell Miller, who vowed that the academy will happen.
“We’re all over this like a cheap suit,” Mr. Miller told Miami Today recently.
The current plan, Mr. Miller said, is to settle on a site this summer and have the academy ready to open sometime next year.
“Once we settle on where we will be, it will happen quickly,” he added. “I think 2015 is still do-able” to open the academy.
Baseball’s Urban Youth Academy program is meant to offer free baseball instruction to inner-city and underprivileged youths.
In addition to community service, the academies are the league’s answer in the US to overseas youth baseball programs in the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean and Latin American nations that have become player factories.
The league has opened academies in Los Angeles, Houston and New Orleans in recent years and academies are in construction in Cincinnati and Philadelphia that are expected to open this year. Also, the league is considering San Francisco, Chicago and San Diego for academies.
All the while, the plan for Miami hasn’t moved forward. It’s not for lack of trying, Mr. Miller said.
As Major League Baseball’s vice president of youth and facility development, he oversees the Urban Youth Academy program. He also knows what it’s like to grow up to be an elite athlete. He played for the California Angels from 1984 through 1988 and is the brother of Basketball Hall of Famers Reggie and Cheryl Miller.
Mr. Miller said he has visited Miami at least 10 times in recent years to scout sites and discuss the plan with local officials. He plans another trip here next month, which he said may lead to a breakthrough.
The academy was a support-winning chip in the deal among Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami and the Marlins to finance most of the cost of Marlins Park and nearby parking garages with municipal bond sales, which are being paid off in tax dollars with ballooning interest for up to 40 years.
The deal was heavily criticized as a government giveaway mainly because the 37,000-seat, retractable roof stadium cost more than $640 million to build, but the final cost to taxpayers over the next several decades has been estimated at far more than $2 billion.
With help from the City of Hialeah, Major League Baseball first tried unsuccessfully to secure an undeveloped site on the outskirts of Hialeah for the academy.
The focus eventually shifted to a more populated area in the city, near a public middle school. Then another site, the county-owned Amelia Earhart Park, also in Hialeah, became the favorite, but nothing has materialized.
Mr. Miller didn’t explain why.
“The city [of Hialeah] has worked diligently to help us,” he added. “The [Hialeah] mayor’s office has been very cooperative.”
If and when a site is secured, the league has earmarked $3.2 million for the project, which will include land acquisition or leasing costs, Mr. Miller said.
“The money is there,” he promised.
As for the Marlins, the team hasn’t played a part yet in the plan, but that doesn’t mean the Marlins won’t get involved at some point, he said.
For now, the big hurdle is getting a site.
“It’s been long, arduous and complex,” he added, “but we feel like we’re getting to the end of this.”