For the past two years, the City of Miami has tried hard to persuade the public and politicians in Key Biscayne to back its plans for hosting the Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key. Central among the city's pledges was to create a public park on part of the waterfront land developed for the event. The "Flex Park" was to be built within 31 days of the show’s end, Miami vowed.
But 46 days have passed since the boat show, and the space remains a slab of asphalt. And Village of Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Lindsay has her own theory about the supposed park: It was bunk from the beginning.
“I think what we see here is they’re trying to go through the backdoor and create what they had intended all along: a year-round exhibition space for commercial use,” she says. “They were bullshitting all along.”
Lindsay isn't alone in slamming Miami. After the city missed its March 17 deadline, Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez demanded answers for failing to deliver. He noted that $24 million of taxpayer money was used to prepare the space for the boat show.
In response, City Manager Daniel Alonso has said that the city does indeed plan to develop a park but that the administration has run into logistical issues and is “rethinking” its plans.
But Lindsay doubts that. She was among the most outspoken activists against bringing the boat show to Virginia Key, a critical natural habitat, and spent many months heading deliberations with the city. During those meetings, she argued that any commercial use of the land should also create dedicated space for public use.
During multiple public hearings held to approve the financing and agreements needed to build the space, the city made pledges to create the park next to Miami Marine Stadium. Plans called for the city to repave 15 acres and install drainage and electrical fields, as well as cover about seven acres with artificial turf, creating sports fields.
But Alonso says an official agreement was never inked with Key Biscayne.
"Key Biscayne had the opportunity to enter into an agreement with the city and walked away from negotiations," he wrote in a statement to reporters. "So there is no agreement between the City and the Village of Key Biscayne or the Boat Show regarding artificial turf fields at the Flex Park on Virginia Key."
However, he said, there is “an intention... to put turf on the property.”
“There are different uses being considered,” the statement reads. “A plan will be presented to the City Commission and the Virginia Key Advisory Board to allow for a variety of uses for the Flex Park including sporting fields, event space, and parking.”
Lindsay says that regardless of a written agreement, she is “stunned” the administration is failing to comply with what it was instructed to do by the commission, and she rejects the claim there was no deal.
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"All models used a park site and showed parkland, period, full stop," she says. “The City can’t just do whatever they want — they have a responsibility to residents and taxpayers, not to their friends who want to host conventions.”
In the end, the issues may be decided in a courtroom. The Village of Key Biscayne is suing the City of Miami over the use of its waterfront land. That could complicate the City's plans to hold the Boat Show at Marine Stadium in 2017.
Environmental activist and Friends of Virginia Key founder Blanca Mesa says the delay should be considered an urgent opportunity to try to build something better in a city woefully lacking public parklands. The safety of artificial turf fields, which are cushioned with recycled tires, is questionable. And activists say a "park” is a farce if the public won't have access to it during private events.
“It wasn’t going to be a real park to begin with,” Mesa says. “So let’s tear up all the asphalt and create a real one.”