By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Compare those sentiments to the ones expressed only weeks earlier, as the commission prepared to ratify its decision to turn over Homestead Air Force Base to a group of politically connected private developers known as HABDI. "How much of this was publicly discussed before HABDI got the commission's nod?" the Herald wrote this past January 10. "None. If adopted, HABDI's plan may turn out to be a winner. But the Metro commission generated it by a flawed, closed process. That invites not just distrust, but disaster. Commissioners must begin anew, in full public view."
County Commissioner Betty Ferguson, who voted against the new arena, was one of the first to denounce what appeared to be the newspaper's double standard. During the commission's pivotal March 29 meeting, she looked directly at Ridder, and, referring to the Herald, said, "Whenever we vote to support something that they are in favor of, it's okay that we don't take the time to scrutinize and do those things that we should do. But if it is something that they are not in favor of, then we are bashed all over the place."
Bruce Kaplan says it is easy to understand the Herald's sudden reluctance to insist on public scrutiny and measured deliberation. "Tony Ridder drove this train," he states flatly. And if the train wrecks, supporters and critics alike will point the finger of blame at Ridder. Warns attorney and arena critic Dan Paul: "It is unfortunate that he put his prestige behind this project. He will come to regret it."
ARENA HISTORY 101
Why is the current Miami Arena considered an unusable relic just eight years after it opened? And who is to blame? "I've driven cars longer than eight years," says Commissioner Katy Sorenson. "What happened?"
Those questions may seem like minor speed bumps on the fast track toward a new arena, but they are illuminating nonetheless. The Heat's owners, as much as any elected official, are responsible for the perceived inadequacies of the current Miami Arena. Critics believe that once that fact is fully understood, the public will rise up against the team's demand for a new, publicly financed arena.
"The old arena was partly my mistake," admits County Commissioner Maurice Ferre, who was mayor of Miami at the time the original arena plans were created. "Any fool knows and should have known that you don't put an arena in a blighted area without anything else around it. So I'll take the blame for that.
"But when I left office on November 8, 1985, at least we were duplicating the Summit," Ferre adds, referring to the size and design of the arena that is home to the Houston Rockets. "Then four months later the city cut $10.3 million from the plans and the arena suddenly became outdated before it even opened."
By outdated, Ferre means the arena seats only 15,200 and has a measly sixteen skyboxes. (Even though the arena seats "only" 15,000 people, the Miami Heat sold out just 13 of its 41 home games this past season.) The arena construction budget was trimmed shortly after Xavier Suarez replaced Ferre as mayor. It was City Commissioner J.L. Plummer's idea to slash the budget and divert those funds to the James L. Knight Center and a new exhibition hall in Coconut Grove. "This arena was being built with money from the Sports and Exhibition Authority," Plummer says today, "and my contention was that you had to give some of that money for exhibition space." Plummer's motion was supported by both Suarez and Joe Carollo, who has emerged as one of the strongest advocates for building a new arena.
But everyone -- meaning Suarez, Plummer, Carollo, and even Ferre -- says that the Miami Heat's owners approved of the changes. "Lewis Schaffel didn't want a big mammoth place," recalls Ferre, referring to one of the team's principal owners. Suarez points out that at the time, no one was certain basketball would succeed in South Florida, and that Schaffel was worried the arena would seem empty if it were too big. "That arena was built exactly the way Schaffel wanted it," says Suarez. "He always used the word cozy. He wanted to be able to fill the arena."
Because the Heat's owners got exactly what they wanted, critics charge that their demand for a new arena A under threat of leaving town A only proves they have no integrity or community spirit. "If they didn't want to play in that arena," says former city commissioner Victor De Yurre, "then the owners shouldn't have brought a franchise here." What they did, De Yurre claims, is to bring a team to South Florida knowing that if it were successful, they could extort anything they wanted from the community. "It is unbelievable how owners of professional sports teams can manipulate a community," he says. "We are being held hostage by these owners."
The Heat's current argument -- that the team will lose money if a new arena is not built -- does not impress De Yurre. "My job as an elected official was not to cure the financial ills of a professional sports franchise," he argues. "When they give players these multimillion-dollar contracts and then whine to us that they can't make any money, I have a hard time feeling sorry for them. They have to get their own act together and not expect local government to subsidize them."