The Marlins Had a Party and You Weren't Invited

Under escort I was allowed to examine -- but not photograph -- the visuals. Most imposing was the scale model of downtown Miami, an idealized utopia featuring a low-slung, inoffensive I-395; a lushly landscaped esplanade and canal stretching from the bay to the old Miami Arena; green spaces aplenty in the Park West area; an alluring Biscayne Boulevard softened by verdant medians; a string of sleek skyscrapers stretching north from the Freedom Tower; and of course a massive baseball stadium in Bicentennial Park.

As envisioned by Henry's imagineers, the stadium would sit on the northern half of the park as close to Biscayne Bay as possible. It would be aligned such that the base path from home plate to first base fell on a north-south axis. Behind it, next to I-395, sat three chunky blocks representing parking garages for 1500 cars, and above it perched a three-part retractable roof on rolling girders that, when not in use, stood to the rear like gigantic nesting tables. And gigantic is the word. According to the architects, the 40,000-seat structure, from ground level to rolling roof, would stand 280 feet tall. By contrast the new American Airlines Arena rises 160 feet at its highest exterior peak.

The meeting opened with a representative of Pittsburgh's renowned Urban Design Associates welcoming the distinguished guests and introducing Miami architect Roney Mateu, who began by asserting that John Henry had provided the city an opportunity to erect an "iconic building" that would be a catalyst to improving downtown.

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

The notion that Henry was doing us all a favor apparently was too much for Jorge Espinel, a bomb-thrower-of-an-activist architect and head of the nonprofit group Urban Watch. Without warning he rose and launched into an impassioned tirade I could hear from my exile in the hallway. His message: What gall the Marlins had in moving ahead like this when they'd made no effort to develop community consensus, when the waterfront park was the worst possible site for a stadium, when this very meeting was private instead of public. Marlins executives politely tried to shut him up. He resisted, passed around a flyer, then stormed out.

According to my trusty sources, everything that followed was anticlimactic, even boring. The designers noted the seductive camera angles available from a bayfront stadium and stressed how important that would be for Miami's image. Traffic experts pooh-poohed gridlock doomsayers. Urban planners dismissed any thought of a site west of Biscayne Boulevard by complaining about street closures, railroad rights-of-way, supposedly poor access, and allegedly unattractive camera angles.

A question-and-answer period elicited three interesting queries but no interesting answers: 1) Why did it appear that most of Overtown was left out of the heavenly visions for a new downtown? 2) Where on earth would the money come from for those visions? 3) Wouldn't such a hulking structure in Bicentennial Park obliterate the bay views planned for the nearby performing arts center?

Evasive answers are consistent with the unspoken message conveyed by secretive meetings, awkward attempts to ban the press, and John Henry's dreadful decision to rely on political lobbyists and media spin-doctors. The message is that this deal will be accomplished the way deals have always been accomplished in Miami: behind closed doors.

All the talk about inclusiveness and community involvement is just a kind of cynical doublespeak designed to disarm and obfuscate. If you don't believe it, consider these three examples from the meeting last week:

Several members of Henry's crew used the term charrette to describe the meetings they've been holding with various government bureaucrats. This was shamefully dishonest as they well knew that true charrettes -- marathon brainstorming sessions -- draw on the broadest possible range of participants, from professionals to peons.

Others on the design team managed to keep straight faces when they argued that destroying Bicentennial Park and replacing it with a mammoth concrete stadium would actually "complete a series of parks" along downtown's waterfront.

Most revealing, however, was the little joke Henry's hired guns shared with their privileged confidants at the Marriott. Anyone who slipped and used the word stadium would be fined five dollars. The operative word these days is ballpark. There's a big difference, you know.

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