County Deals For Sony Open Site Revamp
By Scott Blake
Negotiations are progressing between the county and promoters on a plan to make millions in upgrades to the tennis center on Key Biscayne that hosts the annual Sony Open.
The plan will spell out the improvements, how they’ll be funded, who will manage the center and other details, county staffers said this week, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The plan could go before commissioners by September. However, it can’t advance if commissioners don’t act, which would render moot last fall’s referendum that approved the project.
The Sony Open’s promoters, International Players Championship Inc., have pushed for upgrades, saying they’re vital to maintain the Open’s status as one of the nation’s premier tournaments.
The promoters, who lease the center from the county, have proposed a $50 million project funded by the sale of county bonds backed by tournament revenues. Thus, they maintain, the project would cost taxpayers nothing.
County staffers familiar with the negotiations said the bond proposal is “consistent” with what November’s referendum spelled out, so it would be an acceptable funding method.
But the plan faces a lawsuit by Bruce Matheson, whose relatives donated to the county land that became Crandon Park. If his suit to stop the project fails, work on the center is expected start within three to six months thereafter, county staffers said.
The suit’s main contention is that the referendum, which passed by more than the required two-thirds, was vague and misleading so it should be thrown out.
Judge Marc Schumacher held a hearing last week in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on a request by Mr. Matheson to strike any arguments by the promoters other than those that pertain to the referendum. Both sides claimed at least partial victory.
According to Mr. Matheson, the judge allowed promoters to argue that the park’s master plan, which Mr. Matheson helped negotiate some 20 years ago, should be thrown out because it wasn’t approved via referendum, but he barred other arguments.
“They had seven defenses and the judge threw out six,” Mr. Matheson added.
He said he doesn’t know if the judge’s ruling on the master plan may jeopardize his case.
Eugene Stearns, the promoters’ lawyer, said the judge allowed more than one of the promoters’ arguments.
“The order has not been circulated yet. Matheson’s lawyers were supposed to prepare it,” Mr. Stearns said. “The bottom line is that the hearing was uneventful. The judge overruled Matheson’s objections to half of our defenses and struck, without prejudice, the others.”
The promoters have sought to introduce a slew of historical arguments challenging the validity of a 1993 agreement that regulated changes at Crandon Park and led to the master plan.
Mr. Matheson is also facing a countersuit from the county, which placed the tennis center referendum on last fall’s ballot.
He has long fought to gain oversight of the park for preservation. But since the 1980s, the promoters, with county permission, have developed the tournament into one of the tennis world’s premier events.
Mr. Stearns said the upgraded center would be open to the public for use, as it is now, except for tournament time.To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e-MIAMI TODAY, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.