By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
IT AIN'T OVER TILL IT'S OVER
With public opposition mounting, the county mayor's race heating up, and a final contract between Dade and the Heat to be voted on later this month, County Manager Armando Vidal and commission advocates have been scrambling to improve the county's financial standing in the deal for a new arena.
Sources familiar with the negotiations say that among the issues being considered is a possible revenue-sharing plan similar to the one Wayne Huizenga will have with Broward County, in which the team will keep the first $14 million earned each year and then give the county twenty percent of all additional revenues.
Another area under discussion is the level of minority participation -- from construction contracts to food vendors. Given the pounding the project has taken on Spanish-language radio (WQBA-AM station manager Augustine Acosta says about 80 percent of callers oppose the way the arena deal came together), the Heat could shore up its support from commissioners Javier Souto, Natacha Millan, and Pedro Reboredo by guaranteeing substantial minority participation.
Micky Arison may be hearing a lot of different suggestions as he's been visiting county commissioners during the past couple of weeks, lobbying for their support. One commissioner who recently met with him, Bruce Kaplan, says Arison, rather than talking about increasing his commitment to the community, talked instead about backing away from his pledge to pay $5.5 million per year in rent. "He wanted to pay only five million," says Kaplan, who was absent when the commission initially voted on March 29 but who opposes the plan. "He said Tony Ridder drove a hard bargain, but that in the end he would drive a harder one." (Says Heat spokesman Mark Pray: "The negotiations are a fluid process, but currently the rent payment does stand at $5.5 million.")
Another subject likely to spark controversy is the decision by the city and the county to finance a "capital reserve fund" for the arena using money from their general funds. The city and the county have each pledged between $500,000 and $1,000,000 per year to this account, which will cover any emergencies or unexpected costs. "I have a real problem with using any general-fund dollars for this project," says Commissioner Alex Penelas. "You are talking about money that can go to parks, that can go to police, that can go to social services."
Ironically, the City of Miami's money for this reserve fund will come from a pool of cash supposedly earmarked for improvements in Overtown. Rather than spurring development in the most economically depressed section of the city, the arena financing plan would actually deprive the area of needed finances. "It is certainly diluting the commitment to Overtown," concedes Commission Chairman Art Teele, who adds that it is one of the features of the plan he is still trying to correct. "The deal," he says, "is evolving."