Micky Arison is a greedy corporate pig . . . and other observations about big boys and their expensive toys

Micky Arison is a greedy corporate pig . . . and other observations about big boys and their expensive toys
Chapter Nine
Earlier this year, when it looked as though the Miami Heat almost certainly would move to Broward, Dade County Commission Chairman Art Teele sat at the downtown arena watching the team take on the Chicago Bulls. Alongside him during the February 23 contest were several Broward County legislators, including State Rep. Fred Lippman from Hollywood. Throughout the game, Lippman teased Teele: In the future, Lippman laughed, Teele would have to drive up to Broward to watch the Heat play. Soon they would be the Broward Heat.

Teele was not amused. The Heat abandoning Miami -- and leaving his very commission district -- would be a stunning blow to his power and prestige, and he simply was not going to let that happen. In the weeks that followed, Dade's efforts to build a new downtown arena for the NBA franchise kicked into high gear. The frenzied activity culminated in emergency meetings of both the Dade County Commission and the Miami City Commission on March 29. After cursory debate and very little attention given to details, commissioners approved a plan to spend $210 million on the project.

Critics of the proposal say the motivation behind this extraordinary effort can be summed up in one word: ego. "It is practically all driven by ego," asserts former Miami commissioner Victor De Yurre, who spent his last years in office overseeing the city's interest in the existing Miami Arena. "It is the egos of the team owners and the egos of the elected officials."

County Commissioner Katy Sorenson, who voted against the arena project, compares it to boys fighting in the schoolyard to see who is toughest. "The only emergency meeting I've ever attended as a county commissioner was on the arena," she says with disgust. "What does that say about us? Where are we going as a culture when we are so busy focusing on things that do not have lasting value? We are focusing on these glitzy, short-term dazzlers that really won't sustain us in the long run."

Teele says his efforts had nothing to do with personal gratification, but he doesn't deny that ego played a role. "This is about ego, community ego," he argues. "People want to live and work in neighborhoods and communities that are fun and balanced and have wholesome outlets for families. This is going to be a horrible place if all we are going to do is build jails and pour new asphalt on roads."

Sorenson says Teele's logic puzzles her: "When people say that a new sports arena is a quality-of-life issue, it just makes me smile. The real quality-of-life issues are jobs and job training and child care for people seeking job training. It's schools and health care and parks. It's about making sure people feel safe in their homes and that there are enough police to protect them. Those are the things that will really make this a great county. Not an arena.

"This is about a bunch of spoiled, overfed, overpaid corporate giants who are having an arena built by the taxpayers so that a bunch of spoiled, overfed, overpaid athletes can have a place to play. If the owners of these teams want a new arena, then let them finance a new arena. Micky Arison," Sorenson notes pointedly, "obviously has the money." She then picks up from her desk at county hall a newspaper clipping. The article is from the April 16 business section of the Miami Herald and it concerns Carnival Corporation, Arison's company.

The headline: "Cash-rich Carnival looking for acquisitions." The story:
Carnival Corp. is looking for acquisitions. The Miami cruise-line company said Monday that its cash flow is so high that it needs to find profitable investments. Carnival's cash flow, or net income from operations, was $587 million in the fiscal year ended Nov. 30, 1995, and is expected to reach $700 million this year. The figure is so high that during the next three years Carnival will pay for seven new ships, costing about $2 billion, without borrowing.

"We need to look for ways to deploy [remaining cash flow] to get our shareholders value," Vice Chairman Howard Frank said at Carnival's annual meeting. "We will generate free cash flow of $2 billion over the next five years, beyond the cost of new ships. We've clearly been looking for opportunities."

Investment opportunities in fancy new sports arenas, Sorenson wryly adds, is not mentioned anywhere in the article. "That's left for us to build for him," she grumbles.

Chapter Ten
Since February 8, the day Knight-Ridder chairman Tony Ridder agreed to lead the fight to build a new downtown arena for the Heat, the Miami Herald has published more than four dozen stories mentioning the man upstairs. (Ridder's corporate office is one floor above the Herald newsroom.) Of all those articles, one stands out, not because it was stylishly written or because it divulged shocking new information, but because of its surreal qualities.

About halfway through the March 29 front-page story reporting the dramatic announcement that a deal had finally been struck between the county and the Heat to spend $210 million of taxpayer money to build a new arena were these two paragraphs:

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