If Melreese lease goes ahead, more voices must be heard
Miami commissioners wisely delayed a vote last week to lease the city’s golf course for a century to a massive shopping-office-hotel complex with a soccer stadium until they get all details.
Waiting was an easy choice. An even better option was to say “no thanks” to the unsolicited offer for Miami’s largest green space, but it might be too far down the road to say no without seeing the full deal.
When the Mas brothers, their partners and former soccer star David Beckham first asked for Melreese because they wanted a stadium site, the city shouldn’t have asked voters for an OK to cut a no-bid deal, first because the land should remain open and second because no-bid deals give governments the short end.
With an OK to negotiate, the Mas team can now claim a mandate that never was. Permission to talk does not require a deal – especially when the city last week got a swiss cheese agreement with a slew of holes. So the commission didn’t OK it by vote and pushed any action to Dec 12 or later.
By then, commissioners want big gaps filled. One is exactly what green space the city would get in return from a developer who would lease more than 70 acres of the golf course at below-market rates.
They also asked to know the land’s appraised value before setting lease rates. That’s basic. But when they met last week they had no idea of the appraised value or the standard upon which an appraisal will be based. If you don’t know what your property is worth, how can you possibly agree to a price?
Commissioners need all of those facts before considering a contract.
They also must know how much it will cost to remediate the former dump that became a golf course decades ago. The site is laced with all sorts of pollutants.
The community also must know where developers plan to build exactly what at exactly what height. The partners have talked in generalities, but not exactly where buildings would sit at what size. The deal went into negotiation listing the minimum developers could build, not the maximum – no ceiling. The city should never approve that.
Once all details are in hand, a contract could be studied but wouldn’t yet be ready for a vote.
Typically once a large deal with government is unveiled a developer rushes a vote. The claim this time is likely to be that the league requires approval, even though team owners are now building a stadium in Broward County and the need for a soccer stadium was the driving sales pitch for the city to yield its golf course.
In this case in particular, other stakeholders should vet the lease. Those include transportation and environmental interests as well as neighbors, all of which would have to be consulted if the vast project were totally private.
The largest stakeholder isn’t yet at the table at all. It’s next door neighbor Miami International Airport, this county’s largest economic engine with 46 million passengers a year.
Aviation Director Lester Sola was at city hall last week for the vote but didn’t weigh in because the project is still like a bowl of Jello – so slippery that you can’t grip it.
What the county and the Federal Aviation Administration must know is what buildings of what size are planned where at the end of a major runway. As Mr. Sola has explained, buildings could limit how much federal administrators will allow that runway to handle and could constrict aviation.
Until the airport, the county, the federal government, transportation interests and neighbors have weighed in after adequate time to examine the finished pact, the only votes the city should take are to either reject the whole idea of leasing the golf course or, failing that, to at least seek open biddings. The only rationale for no bids – the need for a stadium – vanished when the team built one elsewhere.
If the city still intends to turn green open space into a vast no-bid private project, however, the most interested parties must study the contract first.
Primarily, the city should make sure that it gets Miami International Airport’s blessing. The city gave the county the airport many years ago and has a vital interest that it does no harm there. It’s crucial to our economy.
The golf course deal has been an effort to bring in soccer (which the now-rising Broward stadium does) and to fill city coffers (admirable, but there are better ways). It has also been a political soccer ball at city hall.
As the blanks in the deal are filled in, the city should shift from looking at the politics and placing blame to looking at quality of life and public good. There can be only one outcome among competing interests.
That requires open discussions with all interests after the city gets negotiated documents with all the details.
There is just one golf course. Put it to the best use – which might mean no change at all – under fully shared agreements.
We rushed through a disastrous baseball stadium deal with incomplete knowledge – including its $3 billion cost. Don’t do it again.