January Council – Has Peace Returned to the Gardens?

NOTE: Video of this meeting has been provided by Steve Tarr. See part 1, part 2 and Video Discussion

By a 4-1 vote, the City Council last night closed the door on a baseball stadium at the 117th street location. Councilman Joe Russo, in a much anticipated move, proffered the motion to stop all work on the site plans, to assist the county in searching for alternate locations, and to require that if a similar proposal ever comes back to the city, that it should come to the council first – in full view of the residents.


Joe Russo

In a well crafted explanation for the move, Mr. Russo referred to his request several months ago that a detailed proposal by the teams be presented for evaluation. Since none has been forthcoming, it is time to move on and let the residents of Bent Tree, Shady Lakes, Old Palm and the other neighborhoods in the vicinity get on with their lives.

Introduced during the “Items of Resident Interest” section of the agenda which is usually filled with lists of council members personal activities and other trivia, the motion was made and carried with little council discussion, or prior comments from the public. When residents were allowed to speak, much of the thunder was gone, including the comments by Old Palm resident and former Economic Council Chairman Larry Brown whose text was published yesterday on the Palm Beach Post website. Most applauded the move but used their time to get in a few licks about the process and to call for the repeal of Ordinance 16 (uplands set-aside exemption for government owned land), which opponents claim was passed to enable the stadium. Shady Lakes resident Vito DeFrancesco proposed that repeal would be evidence of “good faith” on the part of the council. PGA Corridor Association co-founder Tom Cairnes dissented, saying the city was missing out on an opportunity. When he added that it was the residents close by who were the biggest losers as their children will not be able to utilize the practice fields, there were jeers heard from the red-shirted residents.


David Levy

The lone dissenter, David Levy, who was Mayor when the proposal was first brought to the city over 18 months ago, did not explain his vote from the dais, but told us during the break that he objected to closing the door on something that hasn’t yet been fully described. Agreeing that the matter could have been handled better, he thought that many of the residents concerns with the site could have been addressed to their satisfaction if discussed in a less political environment. The confidential disclosure rules under which the city was bound had limited the options for engaging with residents. In any case, he supports the decision of the Council and would oppose the project if it was brought back to them.

Present in the audience were the three challengers in the March Council elections, at least one of which was prompted to run on the stadium issue alone. The issue had the potential to bring a lot of new participants into the normally low-turnout election, and time will tell whether they are still engaged two months hence. Although the issue is resolved for now, the conditions that led to the dispute in the first place are still lingering and issues of honesty and transparency could still dog the incumbents.


In other Council actions, Ordinance 19 (the companion to 16 which exempts uplands set-asides for government land under some circumstances) was passed 5-0, as were Ordinances 1 (routine budget adjustments), 4, 6 and 7 (approving the Gables PCD on Northlake near the turnpike).

Resolution 5, approving a change to the setbacks in the part of Bent Tree that adjoins Shady Lakes brought comments from residents that the 50 foot ‘opaque buffer’ requirement has been ignored by Bent Tree property owners for years and the HOA has no teeth to enforce it. The ordinance, which would allow building into the current setback area is contingent on correction of the buffer issues and passed 4-1 (Russo voting no).

A discussion of televising future council meetings returned to staff for more information. The consensus was that live television would not be affordable or needed, but a webcam and archival video may make sense. Staff presented a survey of systems in Boynton, Riviera Beach and Delray as examples.

Full Slate to Oppose Sitting Council Members

Palm Beach Gardens elections in recent years have been predictable affairs. Because of the power they wield over businesses and residents alike, the incumbents have an enormous advantage. Campaign contributions, access to supporters in the gated communities, endorsements by other insiders – these advantages are sufficiently daunting to discourage challenges or weaken opponents that do come forward.

In 2013, Joe Russo was unopposed for re-election, as were Marcie Tinsley and Bert Premuroso in 2011. Eric Jablin and David Levy both drew challengers, but the built-in advantage of incumbency and name recognition helped them win with comfortable margins of 63% and 57% respectively. Low turnouts, combined with the concentration of voters in a few precincts, make the contests an insiders game. BallenIsles alone, with 6% of the registered voters accounted for 17% of the votes cast – and 79% went to the incumbent in 2013, 94% in 2011.

2014 is shaping up to be a wholly different matter. While there are other issues, the secretive and somewhat arrogant way the city (both staff and council) has approached the stadium proposal is provoking a backlash against the current council. Challengers have emerged to run against all three of the incumbents, and it is likely that the organizing done in opposition to the stadium location will change the dynamics.


Kevin Easton

In group 1, current Mayor and two term councilman Bert Premuroso is facing Kevin Easton, president of the PBG Neighborhood Coalition and 2011 council candidate. Mr. Easton is a Pratt & Whitney retiree, active in many community organizations, and a regular participant in the monthly council meetings. As a landowner in the 40th Street and Sunset area, he has organized his neighbors to push for infrastructure improvements in the neighborhood since it was annexed by the city. He opposed the communications tax and the rewriting of the city charter (which failed on the ballot in 2012), opposes the city’s involvement in the Inspector General lawsuit, and the way the stadium has been handled.


Michael Peragine

In group 3, Vice-Mayor and 21 year councilman Eric Jablin is opposed by Mirabella HOA president Michael Peragine. Mr. Peragine is a venture capitalist and owns a web-hosting firm. Opposed to the stadium location, he is responsible for the “movethestadium.com” website, and thinks the proposal has been mishandled by the city. His opponent, in office for 21 years, he feels is “out of touch” with the residents.


Robin Deaton

In group 5, newest council member Marcie Tinsley, elected in 2010 after the resignation of Jody Barnett, is faced by Bent Tree activist Robin Deaton. Ms. Deaton, an engineer with the South Florida Water Management District with a background in manufacturing engineering, environmental compliance and corporate finance, lives in Bent Tree near the site of the proposed stadium. In response to the perception that the city was moving forward with the stadium over the objections of her neighbors, she has been collecting petitions in opposition, and speaking at council meetings. She is unconditionally opposed to the proposed location for the stadium, and seeks more transparency on the council and effective oversight of city manager and staff.

Kevin Easton and Michael Peragine both sit on the board of “Palm Beach Gardens Needs Term Limits”, chaired by former council candidate James D’Loughy. The group seeks to put a term limits amendment on the November 2014 ballot.

Former Mayor Castigates Council on Stadium Actions

Michael Martino, former Mayor and Gardens Councilman for many years, has been sending written questions about the stadium to the City Council, and so far has received no answers. In his latest letter, included below, he takes issue with the perceived arrogance and disrespect which the Council has directed toward those who object to the proposal.

As it has always been our experience that questions to Council or staff on most things are answered in a timely fashion, the stonewalling that Mr. Martino has received suggests that the behind the scenes maneuvering on the stadium is anything but business as usual.

The following is the full text of Mayor Martino’s latest letter to Council:


Michael Martino
320 Balsam Street
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida 33410

December 12, 2013

To Mayor and City Council:

As a Mayor and City Councilman for the City of Palm Beach Gardens I probably participated in over 1500 meetings during the course of my twenty years of service on behalf of the residents of the City. When I served the public had much more access to their City Council. Four meetings per month were held, two regular meetings and two workshop meetings, not one per month as is currently practiced. I have not attended a Palm Beach Gardens council meeting in probably close to 10 years until recently.

Owing to my interest in the City initiated baseball stadium complex proposal off Central Boulevard I attended the recent November 7th and December 5th City Council meetings. I really wish I had not. I was deeply disappointed in how those meetings were conducted. It was not the Chairman; it was not the manner, or the methods, or even the rules but rather the atmosphere and the attitude.

At the very least at these two meetings, especially when discussing, or rather, not discussing the City’s stadium complex proposal, it is my opinion the City Council and its administration embarrassed themselves. Your demeanor concerning information requested by members of the public about the City’s stadium complex proposal was awful. It was at times an insult to the intelligence of those in attendance, condescending, arrogant, and disrespectful.

The Mayor and City Council offered little in the way of substance on the stadium complex proposal. During the November and December meetings the Mayor and City Council flatly refused to answer reasonable questions presented in writing by myself and those asked by many residents at both meetings. Concerning the stadium complex proposal, I am of the opinion the City Council should answer the simplest of the questions that have been raised. This question is not subject to Florida Statutes, does not require traffic studies, does not need a financial analysis, it does not require a deal, and so on. That simple question is…

Mayor and City Council
“Are you “FOR” or “AGAINST” the proposed stadium complex site off Central Boulevard?”

In my opinion, the Mayor and City Council cling to answers, such as, there is no proposal, I know nothing, or I can’t answer that because of Florida State Statute (FS) 288.075 implies I don’t have to. I am hopeful that more than nothing is known after eighteen months of this proposal floating around, and hiding behind FS 288.075 is at best a questionable excuse. The City has not produced any evidence that it has met the intent of FS 288.075 requirements nor has the City publicly displayed any documentation requesting the statutes benefits. Further, parts of FS 288.075 provisions regarding the stadium complex have already been met, thus, the statute may not even be relevant.

Even though it is your responsibility to do so, the Mayor and City Council choose not to answer reasonable questions about the stadium complex proposal. Members of the City Council even deny in newspaper articles that a City initiated stadium complex proposal exists and reaffirmed those denials directly into the faces of the residents that attended the December 5th City Council meeting.

Since the City Council chooses not to answer reasonable questions about the stadium complex proposal and even is denying a proposal exists, than let me offer some facts…

  1. The City of Palm Beach Gardens hired a Public Relations firm to promote a stadium complex proposal for a baseball Spring Training Complex off Central Boulevard at a cost of $60,000 in taxpayer money.
  2. Starting at least as far back as July of 2013, the City‘s $60,000 Public Relations firm and various unnamed City officials have made several presentations to various business entities and private organizations about a Spring Training Complex off Central Boulevard. A stadium complex site plan proposal and other information offered insights concerning this Spring Training complex to these organizations.
  3. On October 16th, 2013 at the Doubletree Hotel on PGA Boulevard the City advertised and hosted a full blown public presentation complete with poster boards highlighting pertinent information and site plans for a stadium complex proposal off Central Boulevard. Also, on display was financial information, traffic information, tourism information, etc. Answering questions for the 300 or so persons who attended were the City Manager, other City department heads and officials, the City’s $60,000 Public Relations firm, Palm Beach County officials, and other pertinent parties. Also, in attendance welcoming the attendees was the owner of the Houston Astros baseball team, one of the teams interested in the stadium complex proposal site as their Spring Training facility.
  4. An editorial on November 16th, 2013 the Palm Beach Post gave thumbs up to “the proposed location for a spring training stadium in Palm Beach Gardens” off Central Boulevard.
  5. Also on November 16th in an article in the local section of the Palm Beach Post a Gardens council member is quoted as saying “I would love to be able to tell you what my position is” and continued, “At this point, there is no proposal to base a decision on”. Illustrated in this same article as this quote is a site plan proposal of a “Proposed two-team baseball stadium site” off Central Boulevard in the Gardens.
  6. On the City of Palm Beach Gardens official website under “Important Links” is a link, “Baseball proposal FAQs”, that transports one to a post titled Spring Training Baseball. This post clearly delineates a site plan for a stadium complex off Central Boulevard in the Gardens. Under this site plan is the declarative sentence, “The City of Palm Beach Gardens is currently considering a proposal for a dual-Major League Baseball Spring Training facility.
  7. A City Council member has publicly stated that a commitment by the teams to the stadium complex proposal is needed by the end of the year. Still another member will not commit until the financial questions concerning the stadium complex proposal have been answered. There is a third member who vehemently denies a proposal exists.

And may I take some further liberties to inform about the following pieces of information that have been circulating…

  1. It has been brought to my attention that a Gardens council member was visiting some of the business establishments along the PGA Boulevard corridor touting the stadium complex proposal and that these businesses would do well to support it.
  2. Reportedly, at a recent meeting of various North County Home Owners Associations the Palm Beach Gardens City Manager was the featured speaker. His subject was the Palm Beach Gardens proposal for a dual-team Spring Training Complex off Central Boulevard. In his company was a representative of the $60,000 public relations firm the City hired to promote the stadium complex proposal. Also in attendance, by mere coincidence I am sure, were certain City Council members. At least one of these Council members commented on the presentation concerning the stadium complex proposal by the manager. It may have been raining that day so the Florida Sunshine Law may have been washed away.
  3. One City Council member has privately stated to city residents that the handling by the City of this stadium complex proposal has been abominable (may not be the member’s exact word but the meaning is close). Yet the member remains publicly mute.
  4. Apparently, the principals of Timber Trace Elementary School and the Watson B. Duncan Middle School principals had a lengthy “informational” meeting on December 4th with the Mayor, the City Manager, the Chief of Police and other city officials. Displayed for the principals were site plan maps, charts, and other information of the proposed stadium complex. It was inferred to me that discussed were such details, as extra security for games held during school hours, parts of the 117th North road will be closed off at all games during school hours, and other elements of the proposed stadium complex as it would be used by the various teams.

So what are we as residents of Palm Beach Gardens to believe? Is a proposal for a stadium complex real or imaginary? Does a proposal exist or doesn’t it? One could make light of all this by asking, “Who is kidding who here?” but this is not a laughing matter. In the City of Palm Beach Gardens a major policy decision has been made to pursue a proposal to build a dual-team Major League Spring Training facility in the middle of a prestigious residential area…

  • directly affecting the property values and the quality of life of the residents of some 1900 homes and many thousands more on the periphery,
  • affecting the safety of the students of two first rate school facilities,
  • destroying a City park,
  • upsetting the tranquility of the City tennis courts,
  • endangering environmentally sensitive land and all the non-human critters that live there,
  • creating more traffic problems for an area of the city that has enough congestion scheduled,
  • and with a price tag pegged at $100,000,000.

When the City Council denies the existence of a stadium complex proposal the council members are at variance with the truth. The City Council denials fly in the face of reality. With each denial that a stadium complex proposal exists the City Council members insult the intelligence of the residents of the Gardens. Each denial calls into question the competence of this City Council and its administration.

The City Council attempts to parse its words. The City Council would have us believe the stadium complex proposal is not a proposal at all but merely a concept. A concept is something conceived in the mind, or a thought. A proposal is an offer to accept or adopt something, or an act. Spending $60,000 to hire a Public Relations firm to market a stadium complex proposal is an act. Creating a site plan for a stadium complex proposal and putting it on paper is an act. Marketing a stadium complex proposal to business organizations, homeowner associations, the public, and creating a link on the City’s website depicting the stadium complex proposal site plans and related information, all are acts

If we are to believe the City Council that they have little or nothing to do with this stadium complex proposal, a major policy decision, than who is responsible? Why was this major policy judgment delegated away by the elected City Council?

By its Charter the type of government that is established for the City of Palm Beach Gardens is a
City Council-City Manager form of government. It is not a City Manager- City Council government. It is my opinion that the City Council has abdicated some, if not all, of their governmental authority and responsibility on the stadium complex proposal issue, and quite possibly others, to the City Manager. That is unacceptable governance and needs corrective measures immediately. 

After their election, City Council members take an oath of office, swearing to represent the trust given to them by the residents of the City of Palm Beach Gardens. The protection of the residents’ health and welfare, and their quality of life, should be the foremost concern for a City Council member as decisions are made on behalf of the residents.

City Council members are elected to serve the residents of Palm Beach Gardens. Council members are not elected to serve any other masters, not Major League Baseball or any of its owners, not Palm Beach County, not the Grapefruit League, not the Tourist Development Board, or any other entities.

Finally, the longer questions go unanswered concerning the stadium complex proposal the more the ugliness of speculation rears its head. Laws of propriety may be called into question. Transparency and openness can be challenged. Ethics become part of the conversation. If the Mayor and City Council were to ask my advice, and I am not holding my breath that you will, I would strongly suggest…

  • a workshop meeting devoted only to the stadium complex proposal to answer the lingering questions surrounding this proposal be publicly advertised and scheduled for January of 2014
  • that the City Council answer the simple question spelled out above and below, sooner rather than later, better yet how about right now…
MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL
“Are you “FOR” or “AGAINST” the proposed stadium complex site off Central Boulevard?”

Sincerely,
Michael Martino

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

Michael Martino – More Questions on the Stadium Proposal

Editor’s note:A full week ago, a letter with detailed questions from Mr. Martino was delivered to the City Manager and other staff and all members of the City Council. As of this date, he has received no answer.


Palm Beach Gardens, Florida 33410
November 12, 2013

PBGWATCH:

It appears as though the Palm Beach Gardens $100,000,000 stadium complex issue is not going to disappear any time soon. The November 7th City Council meeting did little to mitigate the lingering shadows that have been cast across the process that is being promulgated by the City to promote this stadium complex.

The owner of a local flooring business, Michael Martino was a member of the City Council from 1974-1993 and served several terms as Mayor. He also was President of the Palm Beach County League of Cities from 1991 to 1993.

For almost one year the City has tried to keep this stadium complex in the shadows and a secret. City officials have withheld information from the public hiding behind a debatable state statute that they claim gives them a right to “confidentiality”. A baseball team owner who is instigating for this stadium complex to be located at a site in a residential neighborhood says that the stadium deal is “95%” complete and “need only a final vote of the Palm Beach Gardens City Council”. Yet the residents of our City know little to nothing about how we got here or why.

It is a fact that the City has held one public presentation on October 16th to market this stadium complex a full year or so after the City was initially contacted. Also, the City has hired a public relations firm at the cost of $60,000 to be an advocate for the preferred site for this stadium complex which is in the middle of residential neighborhoods. However, what is troubling and not publicly clear is if either of these two instances was authorized by the City Council.

To this date the City Council has not scheduled an advertised meeting at City Hall to discuss their policy intentions with the City’s residents concerning the stadium complex. In fact, highlighted in a recent City brochure sent to the attendees of the October 16th presentation the City has publicly advised that it has no future public meetings planned. This pronouncement was reinforced by a public statement issued by the City Manager through an assistant. I ask why?

Though not advertised as an agenda item the stadium complex issue enticed a standing room only crowd to the November 7th City Council meeting. The meeting permitted three minute public comments which allowed concerned business representatives and residents to express their pro and con concerns about the stadium complex proposal. The discourse by all was thoughtful, dignified, respectful, and blended with the right tenors of emotion. But when the City Council did not include itself in the commentary the process became merely perfunctory.

After all comments from the public were heard the Mayor and City Council members each offered remarks. The Mayor spoke to the economics and financial aspects of the stadium complex essentially saying they need to be examined and how the process needed two or three more months to unfold. Those observations provoke simple questions. After 18 months why doesn’t the City Council know about the financial and economic aspects of this stadium complex? How was a decision made to present this $100,000,000 stadium complex as a City initiative without necessary financial information being part of the decision process? Why spend $60,000 to hire a public relations firm to market a stadium complex to the residents without knowing how or if the City could afford the stadium complex?

In lieu of the proposed site which is in the middle of residential neighborhoods, a resident offered alternative City site locations for the stadium complex. A council member dismissed the alternatives as out of hand because the suggestions were too far west in the City, they would produce urban sprawl, and present traffic problems. However, that council person did not offer any suggestions to counter the proposed site in the middle of residential neighborhoods. My questions to that council member are… Does not the current site endanger the quality of life of the eastern area of our City and introduce “neighborhood sprawl”? Will not the traffic impacts be just as detrimental to the eastern area of the City and probably more so?

Another council member sermonized to the residents that the only place they were getting their information from is the newspapers. Should not that lecture be given to the City officials who claim “confidentiality”? Why didn’t that council member offer answers to the many questions the residents have presented so we would be better educated?

A council member spoke about transparency concerning the stadium issue. I agree transparency is necessary. Answering the questions raised in my letter of 11/5/13 would be a good start. A City sponsored brochure and an assistant to the City Manager says no more public meetings are planned which does not engender transparency. Again it is my contention that the City Council should hold a long overdue advertised scheduled meeting at City Hall concerning the stadium complex sooner rather than later. In this commentary, perhaps, for more transparency this council member should have answered the following questions. When will the City Council schedule an advertised public meeting at City Hall and answer the residents’ thoughtful and necessary questions concerning the stadium complex? Did the City Council choose the proposed site? If not, why not? Who did the site selection for the city if not the City Council and why?

Still another council member opined concern for the residents having “a lot of angst”. The “angst” that the residents may feel will be remedied only when the Mayor and City Council quickly repudiate an obviously poorly chosen and inappropriate site location for this stadium complex. When and how will the City Council cure the “angst” of the city residents?

In my opinion all of the above dialogue, questions, debate, discussions, attempts at public relations, baseball owners’ preferences, and so forth, are important but subservient to a fundamental question. That question concerns itself with selecting a responsible site location for the proposed stadium complex. The City should not move forward on the stadium complex until the site location question is first answered. All forward momentum can and must wait until after the easiest and simplest $100,000,000 question is…

ASKED and ANSWERED

 

MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL

Are you For or Against the proposed site for the stadium complex off Central Boulevard?

Mayor Premuruso –       For____Against____

Vice-Mayor Jablin –      For____Against____

Councilperson Levy –     For____Against____

Councilperson Russo –   For____Against____

Councilperson Tinsley – For____Against____

Sincerely,

Michael Martino

Stadium prospects draw large crowd at November Council Meeting

The published November 8 Council agenda was light – only a couple of project approvals and some board appointments. Yet opposition to the proposed baseball stadium in the city from residents who live in close proximity to the site has been growing, complete with petition drives organized efforts by homeowners associations. Word got around that they would bring their case to the council this month during “Comments from the Public”.

The council chamber, which holds 150, was filled to capacity, with an overflow crowd in the foyer, long before the meeting got started at 7:00pm. After receiving over 40 cards from people who wished to speak, Mayor Bert Premuroso arranged them in alphabetical order and gave everyone their 3 minutes – stretching the discussion past two hours.

Positions of the speakers was mixed. By the end, over 50 residents had their say with about half in favor of the project and half against. Of those against the project, many from the Shady Lakes and Bent Tree communities adjacent to the 117th site, most said they did not oppose bringing baseball to the Gardens, but did not think the location was workable. Traffic, impacts to the children who live in the neighborhood or attend the two adjacent schools, noise, bright lighting, crime, drug and alcohol use and other concerns were raised by a succession of speakers. The proliferation of red shirts in the crowd and strong applause for these speakers, as well as the 400 signature petition presented to the council are all evidence of a strong and growing opposition to the perceived plan.

Supporters of the proposal included a varied group representing business interests (PGA Corridor Association), baseball interests (manager of Roger Dean Stadium, people associated with the Marlins, coaches and officials of local sports, people connected in some way to city or county parks and recreation, the executive director of the PBC Sports Commission), and others who pointed out the economic benefits that could ensue from the stadium. Given the advance warning of the opposition speakers, this parade of boosters was clearly organized.

There is much excitement about the project from its boosters, but also a rather disturbing attitude of “we can’t let a few thousand people in a small part of the city get in the way of this great project!”. While the opposition is clearly coming from a “not in my backyard” perspective, the boosters willingness to reject their concerns in favor of “the greater good” suggests trouble down the road.

Toward the end of the comment period, County Commissioner Hal Valeche, himself a former Gardens Councilman, took the microphone to point out that the county has not taken a position on this project yet and is waiting to see what the city proposes. He pointed out that two of the boosters – Roger Dean manager Mike Bauer and Sports Commission director George Linley, who are county employees, were not authorized by the county to speak in favor of the stadium.

A few of the speakers who were not either for or against the project, pointed out that there are still a lot of unanswered questions, particularly about the finances, and both sides should curb their enthusiasm until more details emerge. Former Mayor Michael Martino, who was present but did not speak, has sent the council a multi-page list of questions that need to be addressed by the council in a workshop. The questions address transparency, finances and the implications to the Comprehensive Plan. (See his questions on PBGWatch HERE.)

The Council listened intently to these two hours of comment and took the concerns of the nearby communities seriously. Mayor Premuroso stressed that the project is in its very early stages and although it is appropriate to consider the effect on baseball in South Florida, the council will do nothing to jeopardize the city’s finances or top notch credit rating. Joe Russo, noting that the uncertainties surrounding the project are causing people “a lot of angst”, said we are “not going to save baseball at the expense of Palm Beach Gardens”. Marcie Tinsley listed transparency as a key goal in anything they do, and suggested that the purchase of the 82 acres from the county should be considered regardless of whether the stadium project happens. David Levy indicated his opposition to selecting an alternative site in the west (eg. near the airport or Avenir) and thought the purchase from the county should be considered, even if just for local sports fields. Eric Jablin compared the neighborhood concerns to the way he felt when the airport was constructed near his home in PGA National – there are ways to make it work. He stressed that the teams and the city are not yet close in the negotiations. He also said “trust us” but verify.

At the end of the session, Joe Russo suggested that we can’t leave this hanging and wants to see a full set of facts on which to make a decision by year end. He asked City Manager Ron Ferris to step up the talks with the teams and the county and try to meet that time line.

Former Mayor Martino Asks Penetrating Questions about the Stadium

Michael Martino sent a letter to the Palm Beach Gardens City Council on November 4th, 2013, along with a long list of questions that he feels need to be addressed about the Stadium.   You can read his cover letter here.

The former Mayor and City Council member separates his questions into 3 categories – Transparency, Comprehensive Planning and Financial, and then has a series of suggestions.  These are all worth reviewing and we residents should challenge our current council to consider and respond to the points made:

Transparency Questions
1. It has been reported that the Houston Astros’ owner, Mr. Jim Crane, first contacted the City about the stadium complex 18 months ago, approximately April of 2012. If that is true why hasn’t the City Council had a publicly advertised meeting to discuss this major policy issue?
2. If the City Council has not publicly discussed it’s interest in this very hyped stadium complex, why would an astute, obviously very successful businessman and owner of the Major League Baseball franchise known as the Houston Astros, infer that the Astros’ plans to move their spring training facilities to Palm Beach Gardens are “95 per cent” complete and “need only a final vote by the Palm Beach Gardens City Council”?
3. According to newspaper articles discussions have been held between certain unknown city officials and major league baseball officials. Who were these city officials?
4. Has the City Council established policy at a publicly advertised meeting to instruct the city administration to pursue a stadium complex to house major league spring training facilities in Palm Beach Gardens? If no policy concerning a stadium complex for Palm Beach Gardens has been discussed or established by the City Council why did the City hire a private public relations firm to market a stadium complex? Who authorized the expenditure? Was the request to hire a private public relations firm publicly advertised? If the City Council has not publicly stated a policy to pursue this massive stadium complex, who has or is directing the city administration to do so?
5. Assuming the private public relations firm that is marketing the stadium complex was hired and is working for the City where are the funds coming from and what is the contract costs and how is it structured? To what degree, if any, are city employee man hours being used to support this public relations firm?
6. Who prepared and paid for the preliminary sketches and information that have been used in various presentations by city representatives as reported in newspapers? Who prepared and paid for the site plans and various other information boards for the October 16th public meeting? Are these available for the public to peruse?
7. Who authorized the presentation of said stadium complex to the public at the Doubletree Hotel on PGA Boulevard on October 16th and what was the cost? Did the City Council either individually or collectively review this presentation prior to this date?
8. 82 acres of land purchased with bonds for recreational and cultural use off Central Boulevard owned by Palm Beach County is being considered in consort with some 35 acres of adjacent city owned land for said stadium complex. When did the City Council publicly discuss purchase of the County land for a stadium complex?
9. I believe the City is declaring “confidentiality of records” under Florida Statute 288.075 F.S., which exempts 119.07 (1) F.S. and Article I of the State Constitution, the Sunshine Law. I would argue that Section 288.075 is not pertinent to the stadium complex issue. However, that debate is now not necessary because…
a. In 288.075 F.S. section (2) Plans, Intentions, and Interests, paragraph (b) states “… in this state is confidential and exempt from s. 119.07 (1) and s. 24 (a), Art. I of the State Constitution for 12months after the date an economic development agency receives a request for confidentiality or until the information is otherwise disclosed, whichever comes first”.
b. The City and the Houston Astros’ owner, Mr. Jim Crane, have been both been publicly vocal about their Plans, Intentions, and Interests and according to reports the City was contacted about this stadium complex over 18 months ago.
10. In a recent mailing I received thanking me for my attendance at the October 16th presentation it states “the City has no future public meetings planned”. Hopefully, there are no private meetings planned. I strongly urge the City Council to hold an advertised Public Hearing very soon to announce to their intentions concerning this massive stadium complex development. The residents deserve to know your policy positions both individually and collectively.
These are just a few of the many questions that have been raised. There will be many more.

Comprehensive Planning Questions
1. Does the City of Palm Beach Garden’s Comprehensive Plan consider, recommend, or speculate that a stadium complex of the magnitude and massiveness that is being considered should be located in the city?
2. Regardless of how well planned and built a stadium complex may be, or how many safeguards are promised or legislated to protect the neighbors, if it’s located in an area of the city that is not appropriate, the question remains how does a stadium complex enhance the quality of life for the immediate neighborhoods and for all of the residents of Palm Beach Gardens?
3. The land under consideration for this stadium complex is in the middle of predominately planned residential neighborhoods, in close proximity to the City’s tennis complex, and very near the desirable and first rate educational facilities, known as Timber Trace Elementary School and Watson B. Duncan Middle School. 82 acres of the site under consideration is land purchased by the County for cultural and recreational considerations. Those considerations could, would, and should blend and harmonize with the existing residential neighborhoods. Will a stadium complex of the magnitude proposed stretch those considerations beyond their limitations?
4. With existing development already in place in this general neighborhood, development approved but not yet built, and future considerations for development under the guidance of the City’s existing comprehensive plan, is it not questionable whether this same neighborhood can handle the stress of a massive stadium complex?
5. Recently the State Department of Transportation reported that an interchange to I-95 is being considered in the same general neighborhood of the proposed stadium complex which further complicates an already complex situation. Should this interchange not be planned and coordinated with a regional approach to the vehicular traffic needs generated by all the existing and planned growth for this area of the city? If the stadium complex becomes a reality should its traffic consequences not be a part of this conversation?
6. As suggested by the stadium complex site plans and information presented at the public presentation on October 16th I question the planning for traffic concerns in the immediate area and neighborhoods. I also am not satisfied with, or perhaps I did not fully comprehend, the City’s approach to alleviating the regional traffic concerns this major addition to this area of the city will cause.
7. Traffic performance standards will be further taxed by the year-round use and magnitude of this stadium complex. As the City requested and the County granted when the Mirasol Development was approved, traffic performance standards may have to be suspended, waived, or ignored at many of the city’s major intersections. PGA Boulevard and Military Trail is only one example.
These are just a few of the many questions that have been raised. There will be many more.

Financial Questions
1. Assuming the City will own the stadium complex, all royalties, incomes, expenses to pay for and build, to operate, and to maintain, to insure, etc., are responsibilities accrued to the City. Is the City prepared for these huge fiscal requirements? Is the City prepared to be a landlord to the degree that this stadium complex will demand?
2. It has been reported and presented by city officials that the financing for the stadium complex will come from two sources, the State of Florida and a Palm Beach County tourist tax known as the “Bed Tax”. Assuming a bond of some kind would be the financial instrument to underwrite the stadium complex will these funding sources be sufficient without the full faith and credit of the City or any portion thereof being exposed? Are there any “strings” attached to these funding sources? What will be the consequences for the City if these funding sources do not measure up to expectations in the future? As an example the “Bed Tax” will undoubtedly fluctuate with the condition of the national and local economies. As referenced to me at the October 16th meeting, another concerning example is that the state funds will be disbursed over a 37 year period, so, without stringent safeguards I find this troubling for future city fiscal responsibilities.
3. How will the city pay for the 82 acres under consideration for purchase from Palm Beach County for this stadium complex? Is it possible to fold the cost of the 82 acres into the financial instrument that will be created to fund the stadium complex?
4. How will the City be reimbursed for the portion of the 35 acres it is giving up to the stadium complex site? How will the City be reimbursed for the improvements it may lose that exist on the City owned 35 acres? Is it possible to fold the costs of the City owned 35 acres into the financial instrument that will be created to fund the stadium complex?
5. A natural disaster, such as, a hurricane could prove to be catastrophic both in a physical and financial way. How will the stadium complex be insured and how will those costs be paid for now and into the future?
6. I strongly support the City Council members desire to not use ad valorem taxes for this stadium complex now and in the future. To keep a no tax pledge for any good reason, however, will be difficult. This City Council and future ones will have to be vigilant, creative, and tough. As an example, I would speculate that the no ad valorem tax pledge has already been tarnished with still more ad valorem monies being contemplated according to the information given to me at the October 16th presentation. The City has incurred costs for the public relations firm, city employee man hours, and the site plan and presentation materials used at the October 16th presentation. In an answer to a question I posed concerning how the City contemplated paying for the County’s 82 acres I was informed that the non ad valorem recreational impact fee accounts and the City’s reserve accounts which are ad valorem funds, were possibilities. Also, answers to questions about future fund sources for maintenance and other extraneous costs sure to be incurred received fuzzy responses. How will this City Council ensure that no ad valorem taxes now or in the future will be used to supplement the fiscal needs of this stadium complex?
7. A funding source which we have not heard from is the two baseball organizations that are mentioned as the other interested parties in this stadium complex proposal. I would point out according to a respected news organization that of the 30 major league baseball franchises the very motivated Houston Astros are the 16th most valued franchise at $800,000,000. The other less vocal team considering this stadium complex is the Toronto Blue Jays valued at $950,000,000 which is 12th on the value list. Together the two teams suggested market value is $1,750,000,000. That is a lot of digits and zeroes! Will these financially well off organizations be asked to finance any portion of this stadium complex?
These are just a few of the many questions that have been raised. There will be many more.

Suggestions for Consideration
1. Find another location with less existing neighborhood intrusiveness for this stadium complex.
2. If the City Council determines its policy should be to continue with the present site selection then a complete and thorough review of all the major facets of the proposal for the stadium complex needs to be accomplished which should include but not be limited to site planning, regional and neighborhood traffic concerns, all safety aspects for immediate neighbors, adequate buffering for immediate neighbors from all noise, lights, etc., financial and contractual aspects, purchase of the County land, and so on.
3. I would suggest that the planning strategy for the overall acreage being considered for the stadium complex development be treated similar to a Planned Community District (PCD) as PGA National, Ballen Isles, and the Gardens Mall developments were. In my opinion this will better accommodate and integrate all of the infrastructure needs, such as, drainage, roads, sidewalks, environmental concerns, etc. The stadium, practice fields, and other development parcel considerations could then be considered as individual Planned Units of Development (PUD) inside the PCD. Even though they are already built and in place the two schools, the City’s tennis complex and park, should be considered as existing PUD’s inside the PCD also. This type of planning approach may allow for more interest and creativity to the development, as well as, make it safer and less intrusive to the neighborhood. In my opinion the site plans which were displayed to the public lacked the Gardens imagination. Again I stress the need to plan for the regional affronts this complex will cause to this area of our city.
4. Municipal services, such as, police and fire protection, public works maintenance requirements, etc. must have a place in the overall plans for this stadium complex.
5. Speaking to the internal traffic needs of this complex, my approach would be to segregate the impacts…
a. Abandon any consideration of linking Shady Lakes Drive with 117th Court North or any new road under consideration, if there is one. No access from PGA Blvd. should be considered.
b. Development plans should include two ingress and egress accesses from the site onto Central Boulevard with signalization if deemed necessary. A new ingress/egress access road should be planned on the north side of the site to primarily serve the stadium.
c. I would suggest major improvements to 117th Court North to accommodate the existing schools, tennis facilities, city recreation areas, and proposed new practice fields.
6. External traffic considerations I would suggest may be needed are…
a. Coordinate site requirements with planned I-95 interchange in this region of the city
b. Intersection improvements at Central Boulevard and Hood Road
c. Intersection improvements at Central Boulevard and Military Trail
d. Intersection improvements at Alternate A1A and Hood Road
e. As feasible and possible provide for road improvements to Hood Road and Central Boulevard as needed and required.
f. Improve other major intersections which may be affected by the stadium complex, such as, PGA Boulevard and Military Trail.
g. PGA Blvd. from Military Trail west to possibly the western most entrance of PGA National may receive stress from this stadium complex that will require improvements of some sort. Of particular concern would be the Turnpike Interchange area from Central Boulevard west. The ingress and egress into commercial developments and existing residential developments, such as Ballen Isles, Old Palm, PGA National and Mirasol, may require some improvement considerations.
h. Undoubtedly other roads that will be used to traverse to this stadium complex, such as, Military Trail, Hood Road, Central Boulevard, and possibly Alternate A1A in some areas, will need improvement considerations.
i. Again I stress the need to plan for the regional traffic and transportation offenses this complex will cause to this area of our city.
Please accept the above as my suggestions in the constructive way they are offered.

PBG Public Exposition on Concepts for Baseball Stadium

There has been criticism in the recent past that the baseball stadium proposal for the Gardens off Central Boulevard was on a fast track for approval before the public had been informed. Judging by the public exposition yesterday at the Doubletree Hotel, the city is doing its part to open up the process for public scrutiny and comment, and the criticism may be premature.

According to the Palm Beach Post, about 300 residents showed up to “kick the tires” on ideas for developing currently vacant county land near Watson Duncan Middle School and the Gardens Tennis Center into a spring training facility for the Houston Astros and Toronto BlueJays.

A room had been setup with about 6 “stations” giving information about baseball in Florida, economic impact to the area, the site plan, roads impact, financing, and the process to come (most of which is “TBD”). Much of the information had been discussed prior to the meeting, but the site plan pictures were new. What we gleaned from about an hour perusing the exhibits and talking with City Manager Ron Ferris and others was:

  • The facility is needed to provide a “critical mass” for baseball in southeast Florida and prevent the loss of teams currently using county-owned Roger Dean stadium in Jupiter.
  • Economic activity resulting from the facility (eg. hotel rooms, restaurants, etc.) is estimated at $80-$100M per year (Roger Dean is said to account for $56M.)
  • The site plan includes the stadium in the northeast corner adjacent to I95, practice fields west and southeast, and a grassy parking area that would be used for athletic fields in the off season. All of the space is utilized and the plan would take advantage of the “25% set-aside” waiver for public development that was passed by the Council recently.
  • Spring training lasts 6 weeks. During the rest of the year, the facility could be used for semi-pro teams, public events, and other Gardens athletic programs.
  • Construction financing, estimated at $100M, would come from the state ($50M already set aside for this purpose by the legislature) and county bed tax receipts. Allocation of the bed tax is too complex to describe here, but it is useful to know that the two largest consumers of bed tax dollars are the debt service for the county convention center and Roger Dean Stadium. The Roger Dean bonds will be paid off by 2016, and the new stadium would be funded from the new dollars that are then available.
  • The city plans to buy the land from the county (it already owns part of the footprint) in any case. An appraisal has not yet been completed.
  • We asked what developers have expressed interest in the project but no names were forthcoming. There would be a competitive bidding process if the time comes.
  • The city plans to own and operate the facility (either directly, with city employees) or through a concessionaire. The teams would play some role in that. Operational financing was only discussed in vague terms. It is our understanding that Roger Dean operates at a profit and requires no subsidy from the county other than debt service on the construction bonds (a pleasant contrast to the convention center which consistently loses money). When asked how the Gardens facility operational model would compare with Roger Dean, no one we spoke with knew enough about the Jupiter facility to answer.

Before forming an opinion whether the construction of the stadium is a good deal for Palm Beach Gardens, we would have to know a great deal more about the financing, including the operational business plan, future revenue projections, city liability for losses, agreement with the teams to stay in the Gardens for the forseeable future, etc. Concerns with the residents in close proximity to the facility about noise and traffic would also have to be addressed. But as a public relations campaign begins to educate and get buy-in from Gardens citizens, we thought the event was successful and that City Manager Ferris is managing the expectations well.

Gardens weighs widening roads, Changes would benefit two schools and baseball stadium

Details on proposed Stadium, Open House on 10/16

We wrote up a summary of last week’s City Council meeting including discussion about the proposed Baseball Stadium.

Please make every effort to attend next week’s workshop on it.  Ask your questions.  Read the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).  Note that the presumption appears to be that this project will happen.  Please inform your friends and neighbors and encourage them to attend as well.  Get your questions answered.

Here is a link to the City’s notice about the Open House and FAQs are here.

Willie Howard covers the workshop thoroughly as a front page story in today’s Palm Beach Post.   If you subscribe you can read the whole story online, or here is a text version.

We get the government we deserve – and it’s up to us to watch what they do.  Hope to see you there.

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