City of Miami commission approves Miami Freedom Park ballot initiative

The City of Miami commission has voted to allow a ballot initiative in support of Miami Freedom Park and Soccer Village to appear on the city’s general election ballot on Nov. 6. The vote was 3-2. Commissioners Keon Hardemon, Joe Carollo and (critically) Ken Russell voted in support. Commissioners Manolo Reyes and Willy Gort voted against.

The day appeared to start where last Thursday’s meeting left off, with commissioners airing their grievances with the deal. The two most prominent voices in the morning were those of Reyes and Carollo.

Reyes, who was vehemently against the deal, claimed that the process was illegal. He introduced two measures that sought to end discussion on the initative. He also offered a new initiative, which would open up the Melreese property to a competitive bidding process. This met immediate resistance, specifically from city mayor Francis Suarez.

“This particular ballot language is misleading,” Suarez told the commission. “I also believe it’s out of order.”

Suarez’s point, which was confirmed by the city’s attorney Victoria Mendez, meant the initiative would not receive full discussion. Mendez also confirmed the legality of the initial initiative effort.

Joe vs. the Golf Course

Carollo’s issues were twofold, and neither were directed specifically at Fútbol Miami MLS. First, Carollo seemed to allege that the current operators of Melreese Golf Course, Delucca Enterprises Inc., were not being upfront with the commission about the types of businesses run from the golf course. Carollo cited 10 profit or nonprofit entities that list the golf course’s address as their place of operation. Now you can play golf at your house with the latest golf simulators, this allow you to practice and play a virtual round of golf on courses 24/7, in the comfort of your home, regardless of what the weather is doing outside.

“I’m going to tell you my main responsibility are to those kids in the City of Miami, Little Havana, in Allapattah, in Overtown, in Liberty City, in Wynwood, in Flagami, in Little Haiti,” Carollo said, “that don’t have any of these benefits and don’t have no Charlies [Charlie DeLucca operates the Melreese Golf Course] putting them in orange shirts and parading them around.”

Jorge Mas speaks to Magic City Soccer after Fútbol Miami MLS’s big win in front of the City of Miami commission.

After approximately 20 minutes of Carollo seeming to prosecute the golf course and its operator, Russell sought to bring attention back to the Term Sheet that had been negotiated by the city and Fútbol Miami MLS until 2 a.m. the night before. Going through each point, Russell highlighted where the city had extracted concessions from Mas and team ownership.

The biggest points seemed to be related to park construction, land remediation and the living wage.

As for the park, questions came from the dais related to the construction of a 58-acre park at the property and what the city’s financial responsibility would be. MFP confirmed the plan is for the ownership group to create a finished park with grass and trees, and then will provide the city $20 million on top of that to use if it wants to make changes or additions later.

Jorge Mas echoed a sentiment he shared with the Miami Herald on Monday, when he stated the Miami Freedom Park group would cover all land cleanup and remediation costs. Mas additionally shared that he is “extremely confident” the cost of remediation would be “significantly lower” than the $35 million that has been budgeted. Reyes disagreed with his assessment.

Living with a Living Wage

The last, and what was believed to be most contentious, issue was the living wage. On Thursday, Russell insisted that all workers at the property be guaranteed at least $15 an hour. At the time, the Miami Freedom Park group could not guarantee that. That changed on Wednesday, however. Mas stated that all employees and contractors with Fútbol Miami MLS would guarantee $15 an hour from the jump, which was not surprising. What Mas proposed for all other vendors at the property is an escalator. In the first year, the guaranteed wage would start at $11 an hour. Over the next four years, it would rise $1 an hour per year to eventually arrive at $15 per hour. That seemed to be good enough for Russell.

City of Miami commissioner Ken Russell speaks to Magic City Soccer after casting the deciding vote to allow Fútbol Miami MLS’s project, Miami Freedom Park and Soccer Village, to go to the November ballot.

After Mas’ team walked through the living wage language, it appeared Russell was convinced.

After a lunch break and an opportunity for any final questions, the vote was cast. Miami Freedom Park was on its way to the November ballot.

“It’s a win for our fans, and a win for our community,” Mas told Magic City Soccer after the vote. “And our next step is to continue progressing, to show the residents of the City of Miami the benefits of this project, continue to work hard to win their trust and support for the referendum in November, and at the same time turn this page and this chapter and start building a soccer franchise.”