Stadium Fight Kicks Up a Notch – December Council

Are you for it or against it?

This was the mantra repeated by a dozen or so opponents of the proposed stadium on 117th street, backed up by a sea of red shirts in the audience. Speakers included Bent Tree residents Cathy Sorkin and Bruce Oestreich, Vito DeFrancesco of Shady Lakes, former Gardens Mayor Mike Martino, and Mike Peragine Sr. a former mayor of a northern city.

Cathy Sorkin charged that the city has not shown the residents respect – limiting the information disclosed and proceeding with a project against the wishes of their constituents. She also reported that Roger Dean apparently is running a $1M/year deficit backed by the taxpayers – not something she wishes for the Gardens.

Bruce Oestreich expounded on the history of similar projects in Miami and Homestead that didn’t end well, and suggested the property be used for a regional park (its original purpose) rather than to support a for-profit enterprise with taxpayer dollars for a business that doesn’t care about Palm Beach Gardens.

Ruth Peeples referred to last months session where a parade of boosters – many from outside the city or employees of the city or county, came to speak the praises of the stadium. “Speakers solicited by the city” she claimed.

Mike Martino, referring to the long list of question he sent to the council and staff for which no reply has been forthcoming, said the council has offered little of substance on this issue. They should say if they are for or against it, and then “the people will know what to do.”

Vito DeFrancesco charged that the council and staff have been hiding their role in the project. A public information request he filed for communications between city representatives and the Astros management came back “nothing found” yet “someone” developed a preliminary site plan, did traffic studies, etc. Where is the transparency?

Two realtors Steve Barnes and Marc Schafler both spoke of home value impacts, people moving out, and lack of interest by prospective buyers until the stadium issue is settled.

Other speakers touched on the core issues to the nearby residents – danger to the school children from drugs, alcohol, traffic, scalpers, noise, bright lights and other ills that the stadium would bring.

In response, none of the Council would say how they felt about the proposal, saying they have to keep an “open mind” until a formal proposal is on the table. It was suggested that the sea of red shirts did not represent the city – that many people who support the stadium just didn’t come out tonight. The audience was invited by Mayor Premuroso to “keep coming back each month” to make their views known. Joe Russo suggested that the issue was “bigger than the city” and with the future of baseball in South Florida at stake, the county and state have an interest in the outcome. He may not have meant it this way, but it came across to the audience as “we may be asking you to make a sacrifice for the greater good..”. Perhaps a diminished quality of life and declining property values for “the 5%” is a fair price to pay to save baseball in South Florida?

Many of those opposed to the stadium location wore red shirts. Both councilman Russo and later councilman Jablin, fully knowing the significance of the shirts, jested that they were already dressed for the Christmas festivities (caroling and Christmas bazaar) during the weekend. The residents were NOT amused.

It is clear to an objective observer that this entire issue has been mishandled by the city. Going to the residents first and getting buy-in from those most affected would have avoided the bitter fight that is coming. Instead we got secrecy (the County Business Development Board and Sports Commission and others meeting with the teams out of the public eye), the public statements by the team owner that it is a “done deal” before anyone had heard of it, and a continued lack of information coming from council and staff. The good reputations of the city leaders could be tarnished by this ham-handed approach. And, as one of the speakers so aptly put it: most of the mistakes that a council invariably makes can be easily remedied by repealing an ordinance – building a stadium in the wrong place could do irreparable harm.

Several speakers alluded to the upcoming March municipal election. Given the usually light turnout, if all of the voters of Bent Tree, Shady Lakes, Old Palm and the other affected neighborhoods get out the vote, then Council Members Jablin, Tinsley and Premuroso may have a tougher time getting re-elected unless they start to listen to their constituents.

For other items discussed at the 12/5 Council Meeting, see: Now on to Topics Actually on the December City Council Agenda

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