Just Say No to John Henry

John Henry's perverse fantasy of jamming a baseball stadium into Bicentennial Park makes Weinreb recoil. He ticks off a list of objections: "First, it's a waterfront site, and with the new arena already blocking the view of the water, and with Bayside blocking views of the water, and with the Bayfront Park amphitheater also blocking -- well, here's this beautiful bay view, and with all these buildings and stadiums stacked up on public land, it's just not available anymore.

"Second, to say this would help downtown -- we're not so sure. It would just clog it up more, and it's already clogged. If you have 40,000 fans 80 times a year [attending ballgames], how are they going to get there? Already there are going to be logistical problems with the new arena.

"Third, that site has been mismanaged. It was open to the public for a number of years and used for soccer and baseball. [It once was home field for the athletic teams of MDCC's downtown Wolfson Campus.] We feel it should be opened to the public again. Public funds bought that park. Millions in taxpayer money went into it. Why should public money now go to private enterprise?

Bicentennial Park rip-off: Kill this stupid idea now
photo illustration by Steve Satterwhite
Bicentennial Park rip-off: Kill this stupid idea now

"Finally there are environmental hazards from when the Belcher Oil Company was there. Any construction would require a substantial cleanup, whereas with a passive park space, that probably wouldn't be required."

Weinreb concludes: "It would serve the long-term needs of the city to maintain this last remaining open space on the waterfront. If the whole area gets built up and revitalized, the park would become critical for use by citizens and tourists alike."

Miami architect Jorge Espinel is another of those struggling to be heard above the media hoopla that has accompanied John Henry's fiendish gambit of pitting one community against another in a race to see who will offer the dearest sacrifice at the altar of professional sports. A founder of the Urban Environment League, Espinel now heads the nonprofit group Urban Watch, which scrutinizes Miami development projects to determine the extent to which they're in the public interest.

Recently Espinel wrote an article he titled "Rule Out Bicentennial Park as Baseball Stadium Site." Accompanying the piece were renderings depicting Espinel's vision of Bicentennial Park's potential -- as a park. Naively he hoped the Miami Herald might find the material provocative enough to publish. "Good luck to Florida Marlins owner John Henry in getting his ballpark," the article begins. "But to gain broad-based public support and achieve his objective, Mr. Henry should rule out Bicentennial Park as a stadium site. The area cannot support yet another sports megastructure. It lacks rapid transit essential to the success of downtown stadiums. Ten to twenty thousand additional cars coming to a stadium would virtually paralyze traffic from I-95 to Miami Beach.... A huge structure, at least twice the size of the new arena, a stadium would completely block the waterfront, dwarf the Performing Arts Center and American Airlines Arena, and diminish their stature as important urban landmarks in Miami....

"Encouraging construction of a baseball stadium is wrong and irresponsible because it undermines the basis of a sound waterfront land-use policy in Miami," Espinel closes. "Government officials, civic leaders, and the media instead should be calling for a charrette to redesign Bicentennial Park.... This would safeguard, once and for all, Miami's waterfront properties. It would also avert a bitter and divisive battle over Bicentennial Park that neither Miami nor the Florida Marlins need."

These four intelligent civic patriots make eminently good sense to me. But as long as their views are marginalized by being ignored (perhaps willfully) by the major media, and as long as they appear to have no public support, John Henry and his money machine will have the upper hand. Maybe you'd like to let them know they aren't just howling at the moon. You can contact the Urban Environment League and the Public Parks Coalition at 305-579-9133. Jorge Espinel's Urban Watch takes calls at 305-530-1300.


Sprawl Watch Clearinghouse in Washington, D.C.

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