Mission Man

Miami's Downtown commissioner is still fighting, and still hopeful of big change

Winton tried Teele's method several weeks later when he drafted a series of resolutions regarding the future of the Florida East Coast Railroad corridor from downtown Miami to Wynwood. The corridor includes a 55-acre site north of NW 29th Street between North Miami Avenue and NE First Avenue currently used by shipping companies for cargo container storage. A Long Island development company recently revealed it has a contract to buy the site from the FEC for $34.5 million. Winton's goal was to make sure that an independent development study of the FEC corridor the city commissioned for $372,000 gets acted on rather than simply filed at the Planning Department, as has happened previously.

"I said we're going to do exactly what Teele did," Winton explains. "What that did was it made the next steps crystal clear. And the law department came back and said, 'No, no, no, you guys can't do eight different resolutions. Just do one.' I said, 'No. We're going to do eight.' So we had resolutions that had action steps related to housing, economic development, transportation, parks and green spaces.... Each of those resolutions for those specialized groupings has a series of action steps tied to them, which is virtually unheard of when the city has done master plans in the past."

Whether the master plan becomes reality depends on whether private businesspeople rise to the challenge and accept the development dream Winton has now managed to codify into city ordinances. That's a lesson that will come between now and the end of the commissioner's term in November 2003.

Photos by Steve Satterwhite
"This is how we promote our downtown," Winton grumbles about the parking lot wasteland
Steve Satterwhite
"This is how we promote our downtown," Winton grumbles about the parking lot wasteland

Winton also took a short class in which he learned that sometimes it is necessary to give Major League Baseball team owners a tongue-lashing beyond his wildest dreams. It occurred while former Marlins CEO John Henry was still in town hoping to put a new stadium on one of Miami's last pieces of waterfront park. "I had a lot of dealings with [former Marlins' CEO] John Henry and thought when I first met him, and said this several times publicly, if there's a guy you'd like to have owning a pro team, then you'd want to have John Henry because he seems so nice. And after going through this process where the City of Miami spent $250,000 on our consultants to help guide us through this process of negotiating with the Marlins ... we could have put a deal together last April [2001]. And John Henry never would sit down and negotiate. He kept telling the media, 'Oh, I can't get the city [to negotiate]' and it was bullshit. And I kept saying publicly it's bullshit ... that we could negotiate a deal with you guys in 48 hours. Maximum. That's how ready we are.

"By the time we got to June I'm saying John Henry doesn't want to do a deal. I don't know what's up. But we're all being misled. My theory then was that Henry was trying to have the negotiations appear to fail sometime in the fall and he'd go to Major League Baseball and say, 'You've got to buy me out because I can never get anything done [with the city].' And it turns out my theory was wrong. He was clearly stalling, had no intention to do a deal with us. Because he was negotiating to buy the Red Sox. And to sell the Marlins. So he was lying to us!"

Next time the city commissioner deals with a Major League Baseball owner, Winton will have "a different set of eyes on," he says. How does he feel about the Marlins' new owner, Jeffrey Loria? Well, he also seems nice. "The current guy, he's not coming in here threatening anybody and he's not coming in here promising anything," Winton observes. "He's not going around making lots and lots and lots of noise.... That is really smart."

But Winton points out the two main stadium sites the city was willing to negotiate on last year are now slated for other projects, including another Publix supermarket for the Brickell area.

The commissioner has learned to funnel the Crazy Johnny inside him into a diplomatic forcefulness that can make the coziest of public service slots feel prickly. Especially when the commissioner perceives their occupants to be mucking up his top priorities: refurbishing the poorest big city in North America and seeing it run as smoothly as possible. If you are hired to help redevelop a big city, you had better really know about big-city redevelopment. If you are charged with being a city manager, you had better know how to manage a city staff. Same for those responsible for code enforcement.

Current Marlins' owner aside, a nice person is not always the right person for the job. Case in point: Patricia Allen, former executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. The DDA, a consortium of business executives, property owners, and elected officials, is responsible for marketing downtown Miami's motley array of commercial properties and vacant lots to big-time developers. Winton became DDA chairman last November, replacing Commissioner Willy Gort when he stepped down from the commission. By March Winton had arranged for Allen's departure. "She didn't have the right skills set," the commissioner explains. Winton then launched a national search for Allen's replacement.

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