Mullin

The Marlins Had a Party and You Weren't Invited

Last week the Florida Marlins organization rented a conference room at the Biscayne Bay Marriott Hotel and played host to an exclusive group of guests. As usual with such weekday functions (this one began February 3 at 1:00 p.m.), scheduling conflicts prevented some people from attending, but if everyone the Marlins invited had shown up, it would have been quite an impressive group: the entire City of Miami commission, nearly all the city's top administrators, an array of regional and state bureaucrats, a number of influential attorneys, and several prominent local black leaders.

This wasn't to be simply another in the series of meetings the Marlins have been holding with public officials since team owner John Henry declared his intentions to build a baseball stadium in Miami's Bicentennial Park. No, the guest list alone left little doubt this particular gathering was going to be something special. And indeed it would be. For the first time since Henry's December 15 announcement, the public and the press would have an opportunity to hear from the crack design team Henry had assembled, and to glimpse their inspired vision of downtown Miami's future. Renowned ballpark designers and award-winning architects would be on hand, as would colorful drawings of a wondrously revitalized downtown Miami and an enormous scale model of the city with a new baseball stadium in Bicentennial Park.

But there would be something else unexpectedly special about this presentation: no public and no press.

Not quite to scale but you get the idea: Miami enters the really big leagues
photo illustration by New Times
Not quite to scale but you get the idea: Miami enters the really big leagues

"Is there a member of the media here?" asked Marlins executive vice president Jonathan Mariner minutes before the meeting was to begin. He was standing three feet away and looking directly at me as I examined the scale model. Maybe he has a nose for picking out snoopy journalists. Maybe he spied my reporter's notebook. Whatever the case, he zeroed in like a smart bomb.

I cheerfully introduced myself and told him with a smile how much I was looking forward to the presentation. "The media is not allowed. We need to go outside right now," he replied humorlessly.

Having been tipped to the fact that the city's elected officials were among the invitees, I asked if he knew how many were expected to attend. Before he could answer, I explained (still smiling) that if two or more commissioners appeared, Florida's Government in the Sunshine Law required that the meeting be open to the public -- which, of course, includes the press.

Mariner was in no mood to be friendly or to parse the language of the state's open-meetings law. He aggressively shooed me to the exit like a sheepdog, then pushed the door shut behind him. Clearly agitated, he repeated himself: "This meeting is closed to the public." So I repeated my legal citation and held up a copy of the official Sunshine Law manual, which I'd brought along in anticipation of just such a frosty reception. I hadn't seen any commissioners yet, I added, but I'd be watching, and if two arrived, I was going to crash his party.

Oh no I wouldn't, he huffed: "If we'd had this meeting at our offices, you wouldn't have a right to attend. It's closed to the public. We don't want a media circus here."

Circus? I looked up and down the hallway outside the meeting room. Not a video camera anywhere to be seen. No sign of Rick Sanchez. What circus was he talking about?

As Mariner spun around to head back inside, I held my Sunshine Law book aloft and brandished it at him. "I'll be watching for city commissioners!" I yelped as the door closed.

Luckily I had already enlisted the help of a couple of acquaintances who'd been invited. They promised to take notes and share them with me so that I, in turn, might share them with the public -- the very same public John Henry expects will embrace his dream of building a huge sports stadium on Miami's last parcel of waterfront park land; the very same public he hopes will happily cough up hundreds of millions of dollars to finance it.

So at least I can offer a once-removed description of the Marlins' most elaborate sales pitch to date. Why team executives would find a secondhand account acceptable but a first-hand report unacceptable remains a mystery, though it does reveal much about their clumsy, misguided, and increasingly doomed efforts to win public support for their cause. First, however, the meeting itself.

For this chronicle I have Greg Bush and Bob Weinreb to thank. Both men are leaders of the Urban Environment League of Greater Miami and both are adamantly opposed to allowing a stadium in Bicentennial Park. According to the Marlins, the fact that these two were invited to last week's presentation is proof of the "inclusionary" nature of Henry's crusade to build consensus. According to me the Marlins simply could not afford to snub two of their most active opponents in the private sector. (Tellingly the Marlins did not invite County Commissioners Jimmy Morales and Katy Sorenson or Miami mayoral hopefuls Maurice Ferre or Xavier Suarez, all of whom have expressed their opposition to a stadium in the park.)

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