In Melreese talks, safeguard public interest, not dollar sign
As Miami awaits terms due in May to lease Melreese Golf Course for mega-complex Miami Freedom Park, officials should use the precious months to probe why they’re caught up in this mess and what the city should achieve from it.
Emphasis has been on how much money the city can get from the Mas brothers and soccer promoter David Beckham for its largest green space, not on whether the city should make a deal at all or what its aims should be.
The truth is that city residents’ best interest is far more significant than the financial bottom line for a unique asset.
Businesses err in dealing solely to profit now. That kind of short-term thinking sinks corporations. Profits in one transaction may be far less vital than positioning for long-term growth.
If that’s so in for-profit business, it’s doubly so in government, where the real bottom line is the well-being of residents, not how much government can rake in via a deal for their assets.
Miami Today has opposed handing over our largest open space to construct more than a million square feet of offices, retail stores and hotel rooms plus a new stadium for the Inter Miami CF soccer team. That’s not because we don’t like the project but because it’s the public’s space. The project is fine, the place is not.
We would think again, however, if Miami Freedom Park were to meet overwhelming city needs, such as providing 10,000 units of affordable housing or far more acres of contiguous new parkland than Melreese sits on.
Any deal would also be far more palatable if the city allowed others to make bids for Melreese. Could others do better for residents than we have been offered?
What the city is examining now is just how many dollars it can get to pay bills. The city will keep spending by selling off vital assets until no more remain to sell. Then what?
Because of that short-term thinking, Miami Today has for years called for a trust to safeguard community assets, from museums to parkland. Government is far too willing to deal whenever someone shows up with a wad of cash and list of promises. A trust could at least put assets above immediate profits. It’s time to put one into the works.
Unfortunately, dealings for Melreese are too far down the road to await a trust. Everyone is looking at a shiny Major League Soccer stadium to replace current home Lockhart Stadium, not at the costs to the community.
They’re not even paying attention to the impact on Miami International Airport next door, which could lose runway capacity due to high-rise Melreese construction.
Concerns in Miami now are the cost to erase decades of site pollution and then the details of how much the city could get in a lease based on assessed land value.
But assessments can’t total the true value of parks to a community, just the value of raw contaminated land. That’s far too low a price.
Look at the Lincoln Memorial or Washington Monument or Statue of Liberty: should the US sell them if it gets offers above market value of the land they sit on as sites for condos or office buildings? What is the value of a unique public treasure?
Melreese doesn’t compare with the Statue of Liberty, of course, but the principle applies: it’s worth far more to Miami than its land alone. The city never wanted to sell. The Mas team just wanted it – so we’re looking at virtually giving it away.
The public had a knight while Willy Gort opposed loss of his district’s prime city asset. But his November commission replacement, Alex Diaz de la Portilla, talks merely about getting some open space nearby as a partial substitute for 73 Melreese acres instead of questioning why the district must lose anything at all.
As hired attorneys fight for the best bad deal, the city is weakened. Commissioners in December voted 3-2 to oust Manager Emilio Gonzalez, failing only because it took four votes. A city manager without commission backing can’t bargain with savvy investors, and a new manager would start from scratch.
A lawyer negotiating for the city, former commissioner Marc Sarnoff, says he’ll have a deal to view in May. Well before then, city officials should unite on what they really wish to achieve and how they want to get there.
That’s going to take public debate now, not waiting for Mr. Sarnoff’s fait accompli. Otherwise, they’ll just react, yes or no. That’s no way to bargain.
We already know Commissioner Joe Carollo wants the maximum cash for the city. He says it over and over.
But voters don’t elect officials to gain profits. We elect them to give us the best city possible. Profit may be a piece of the pie, but it’s not the meal.
It’s time to debate, right now, what elected officials want, in order to inform the Shutts & Bowen attorneys team for the city what direction to go.
We don’t favor any deal for Melreese. But the worst possible result would come by waiting for negotiators to tell officials what deal they’ll vote on.
A unified aim is the best chance now in a deal that never should have been in the first place. Get it all or walk away with heads high.
Just be sure that the aim comes with something far more important to the community than a mere dollar sign.