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Front Page » Opinion » Don’t swap largest city park for the grass between buildings

Don’t swap largest city park for the grass between buildings

Written by on February 25, 2020
Don’t swap largest city park for the grass between buildings

Miami showcases its policy that it can lose no total parkland. Yet a lease of the city’s largest park for a private mega-project would lose 53 acres. That’s shameful.

Don’t blame Miami Freedom Park’s developers – they’ll do what it takes to displace Melreese Golf Course. Still, the city commission has three paths to keep residents from being cheated.

First, commissioners could (and should) refuse to turn over the only golf course in city limits at any price, thus protecting the valuable public green space.

Even if the commissioners yield to lease the course for as much as they can get, however, they can insist that developers find more than 20 disconnected acres to replace the 73 contiguous acres in their development – because 20 acres in bits and pieces is what an attorney for the developers told commissioners it’s going to be.

In fact, if commissioners insist on giving up vital parkland that was never in play until developers wanted it, the city should decide what it wants to get in return rather than developers telling the city what it’s going to get in this ass-backwards deal.

Look at what’s at stake: 

Melreese is Miami’s Central Park, its largest green space. It’s right beside Miami International Airport, providing open area below takeoffs and landings at the county’s main economic engine. 

The airport director worries that if Melreese were built over, the Federal Aviation Administration would limit runway use at the entry point for much of our air cargo and more than 95% of all visitors to this tourist-oriented county.

Unfortunately, Miami gave the airport to the county decades ago, so city commissioners have no formal requirement to look out for the airport’s health. They certainly haven’t in the Melreese deal.

The deal is, in fact, a spinoff of soccer team owners’ hunt for a stadium site (though they now have two others, one in Broward County and another in Overtown). 

The owners, led by celebrity ex-star David Beckham, united with the well-connected Mas brothers, who have used a stadium as bait in a billion-dollar plan to develop a shopping-hotel-office complex larger than downtown’s Brickell City Centre, which was built on private lands quietly acquired over decades at market rates. 

The Mas brothers didn’t do that long groundwork: they simple asked for public land that was never offered, dealing at well below market rate without competitive bids. City leaders went along.

Now it’s time for commissioners to either OK whatever deal hits the table or vote it down. It will take four of five votes for approval after they vet the deal in May.

The developers’ attorney told commissioners this month some of what they plan. 

Developers magnanimously are offering to let the city keep 58 of its 131 acres as a “contribution.” 

Developers are also talking about finding 20 acres to replace the 73 they’ll lease – probably counting the stadium and space around their buildings as the other 53 acres needed to meet park replacement requirements, as if a building’s front lawn were a park.

Then of 20 replacement acres, they want to count land the city or other governments already own that could be dressed up and called parks. Then they’ll find bits and pieces of land elsewhere that with the rest could total 20 acres. In the latter, they have support from commissioners, all of whom want sprinkles of park in their district as they carve up the bones of Melreese.

New Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who represents the Melreese area, and Joe Carollo talk about getting a really good deal – presumably meaning a high lease level. And if city decides to break up its largest park, the lease figure will indeed be important.

But lease talk is putting the cart before the horse: if the city isn’t getting more parkland than it started with or has to supply its own land elsewhere as part of a replacement, why in heaven’s name would the city part with its only golf course? 

Commissioners seem to be assuming they have to make a deal and plan to haggle for more money instead of grappling with the questions of why diminish parks and why carve up the biggest one we have.

Would New York City let developers take over Central Park and then count the space between all the buildings in Manhattan as a replacement?

That’s the point of questions Commissioner Manolo Reyes raised in hearing the plans for Melreese. He asked for a replacement park at least as large as Melreese, but other commissioners shot him down. He also asked, in vain, not to let developers count areas smaller than 40,000 square feet as replacement parkland.

“Either we accept it or we erase [requirements of no parkland loss] and stop being liars and hypocrites that we are telling the public out there that we are protecting our parks,” Mr. Reyes said.

He’s driving right down the fairway: either keep Melreese as a city amenity, which is the best shot, or at least follow city policy to the letter and have would-be developers provide equal or greater contiguous parkland elsewhere.

It doesn’t matter that commissioners raise lease rates a bit to say they’ve protected the public interest if in the process they’ve degraded parkland forever. That would indeed be shameful.

6 Responses to Don’t swap largest city park for the grass between buildings

  1. Dan

    February 26, 2020 at 11:15 am

    The fact that the city would even consider turning over public land in a no-bid process is deeply disturbing. Any commissioner who votes in favor of this project should be investigated and their office picketed non-stop. Corruption at its finest.

  2. None of your business

    February 27, 2020 at 8:30 pm

    Calling Melreese our Central Park is a joke and you know it. Central Park is a massive, open, urban park that is free for all to enter and roam. Melreese, on the other hand, is not in downtown and is a golf course that you have to pay to enter. You go there for a round, whereas you can do pretty much anything at Central Park. The comparison is brain dead

  3. bill hazley

    March 1, 2020 at 3:05 pm

    They will find a way to take anything and everything they can. They care not about the public but only their bottom lines. Welcome to Capitalism at its finest.

  4. Ed

    March 1, 2020 at 4:50 pm

    I get the feeling that Michael Lewis, the author of these numerous opinion pieces against the redevelopment of Melreese Golf Course, is a golfer…and his golf course of choice to play at is Melreese…and he is selfishly publishing these opinion pieces with rediculously skewed views in order to try to save his preferred golf course so he can continue playing there. To continue to label this golf course as a public park, and open green space, and now exagerating that and calling it Miami’s Central Park, is so rediculous that I think the Miami Today publication really needs to consider who they allow to write opinion pieces. An opinion is one thing, but a twisting of facts and gross exageration of the current status of this property is something that cannot be labled an opinion. This is a pay to play golf course…nothing more. A contaminated site due to debris dumping in the past and fertilizer and herbicide use during its operation as a golf course which has very few trees on it…just alot of grass. Most of the citizens of Miami, the actual owners of that property, have never stepped foot on that property because all it is is a pay to play golf course. The operation of that golf course does not likely yield an operating profit for the City of Miami. So the citizens dont use it and likely subsidize its operations. The redevelopment of that property will open it up to be used by many more citizens of Miami and will also yield a much better economic benefit.

  5. Peter Ehrlich

    March 7, 2020 at 8:48 am

    Melreese Park is a 131 acre public park. It is the largest urban park within the City of Miami. Elected officials should Vote No to the speculators who made the “unsolicted offer” to demolish 73+ acres of Melreese Park. Climate Change and Sea Level Rise have become well known concepts to educated leaders. City officials should stop pandering to speculators who propose to cover Melreese Park in concrete. The City of Miami needs more open space green parks. The City does not need more office buildings, hotels or malls.

    • Ed

      March 7, 2020 at 1:13 pm

      Melreese is a pay to play golf course…it is NOT an open to the public “park”. It is only used by a very small minority of golfers…not the majority of the public at large. To suggest this property is a public park is a joke. The redevelopment of the property will include a public open park that can be used by many more people along with the rest of the facilities that will serve the community at large and not just a handful of golfers.