sun_life_stadium.jpgMIAMI GARDENS – With early voting already taking place in a referendum on whether Miami-Dade County should give the owners of Sun Life Stadium $289 million over the course of 26 years to help pay for facility upgrades, some black leaders started racing against time to ensure there was direct benefit to the African-American community.

Their efforts now seem stymied as the clock runs out for what is the

fastest referendum in the

county’s history, reducing their chances of whipping up community support.

County officials are yet to respond to a letter from one key leader of the campaign, Christine M. King, president/CEO of the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corporation (MLKEDC), calling for a “Community Benefit Agreement” to be made part of any proposed agreement with South Florida Stadium LLC, owners of the stadium.

King’s letter, dated April 10, was sent to County Mayor Carlos Gimenez,

Commissioner Barbara

Jordan and other commissioners. In her letter, King calls for an agreement that would require the stadium owners to pay for the Miami Gardens Town Hall/Town Hall Center project; “expedite” completion of the county’s General Obligation Bond projects in urban areas; finance the construction of an art distribution center at Poinciana

Industrial Park to take advantage of the expansion of the Port of Miami and the Panama Canal; build an NLF Y.E.T. Center in Florida City, provide a landfill closure grant for the North Dade landfill; provide a dedicated source of funding to the Miami-Dade Economic Advocacy Trust and fund a disparity study.

MLKEDC organized a community meeting on April 24 at which the concerns were discussed.

Attendees included the Rev. Gary Johnson of

Clergy for Change and pastor of  93rd St. Baptist Church, who described promises by stadium officials regarding jobs and business

assistance as “a lie.” He said the referendum won’t pass without black support.

“They need your votes,” he said. “We need to make sure that we hold them accountable. There’s no economic development in our community.”

Also present was the Rev. Robert Jackson, pastor of St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Orlando. He spoke about the black community’s efforts in his city to secure benefits when a stadium was being built.

“What you don’t get in writing (before the referendum) won’t happen,” he said.

Hopes have dimmed, though, for anything in writing, such as the Community Benefit Agreement being pushed by King at MLKEDC.

She told South Florida Times this Wednesday that she has not heard back from Gimenez or Jordan or other commissioners.

King said two liaisons with the stadium initiative, Anthony Robinson and the Rev. Willie Simms, attended the April 24 meeting and promised that South Florida Stadium LLC officials would get back to her by Friday on a possible meeting but had not done so.

King did not want to comment on the inaction of the county to her letter. “I understand bureaucracy and politics and take no one’s actions personally,” she said. But she was harshly critical of stadium officials.

“Sadly, I’m not surprised that they have not made any effort to communicate to us with respect to our issues. They have a mega campaign going on and we are but a small fly in their ointment,” she said. “It is a testament that they are not interested in what is best for the community. I am not a paid figurehead. I represent at least one segment of the voices of the black community and if they were truly interested in helping the black community, they would have gotten back to us, as promised.”

King said she was not optimistic that anything will happen, explaining that the purpose of the meeting and other efforts on the stadium plan have been to educate the community.

“We are nonpartisan,” she said. “We are not in favor of or against the referendum. We saw areas where our community could benefit and we had hoped the stadium officials would step up to the plate.”

Early voting for the referendum will end May 12 at polling places around the county, with the general election slated for May 14.

The referendum, according to its text, “proposes using 7,500,000 dollars a year, adjusted annually for growth, from additional tourist room taxes to be levied to modernize stadium conditioned on:

• “Dolphins’ remaining long-term in County;

• “Private funding for majority of costs;

• “Stadium owners paying County at least 112,000,000 dollars in 30 years;

• “Stadium owners paying penalties up to 120,000,000 dollars for not bringing premier football and soccer events to stadium; and

• “Award, in May 2013 of Super Bowl.”

Jordan proposed the resolution that enabled the referendum, with two other black commissioners – Jean Monestime and Dennis Moss – voting in favor. Commissioner Audrey Edmonson was out of town when the resolution was approved on April 10.

The deal was dependent on the Legislature granting its approval and this was expected later this week before the current session ends.

Stadium officials have estimated that the upgrades being planned for the 25-year facility would cost between $375 million and $400 million, covering 22 separate projects, mainly to preserve the aging stadium, provide enhanced seating and other fan comfort and build a canopy.

County Commissioner Jean Monestime put much of his effort into getting a good deal for local residents, including an amendment to the

agreement between the county and South Florida Stadium LLC to “increase the threshold for locally hired workers for stadium renovation from 50 percent to 70 percent.” 

Monestime’s amendment calls for 20 percent of that 70 percent job  allocation to come from Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) areas – low-income neighborhoods – across the county. 

Also, he said, 10 percent of the local workers hired must come from Miami Gardens, where the stadium is based. 

Black opposition where it exists has mostly swerved away from the question of providing county tax dollars to a stadium owned by Stephen M. Ross, a billionaire, to trying to secure indirect benefits to the African-American segment of the population.

Opinion was split at the April 24 meeting held at the MLKEDC offices in Liberty City and at a press conference on Tuesday.

Supporters of the stadium plan, including Bill Diggs of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, Rick Beasley of South Florida Workforce, and Christopher Hutchinson of Operation 305, argued that  the deal will create thousands of jobs and blacks will benefit.

Beasley said that South Florida Workforce will “assist and recruit” for the construction project through an “Opportunity Fair” to be held at the


He added that in an effort to hire workers from CDBG areas, his agency will “drill down by zip code [and] target specific areas” for

recruitment. For Diggs, the stadium upgrade represents opportunities also for local businesses. “This is about businesses that need to exist in the black community,” he said.

Publicist Barbara Howard described the plan as “a massive economic generator,” adding, “I haven’t found anything so far that I don’t like. The best one. What’s the alternative?”

But Miami-Dade School Board Member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall was pessimistic over the chances of blacks getting any benefit of substance from the deal. “I know who is going to get the short end of the stick,” she said.  “You stand your ground. Don’t be bought and sold for a pittance. You will get what you accept.” 

Billy Hardemon, chairman of the MLKEDCO board, noted that blacks can make their views known through the ballot box.  “We as a community have an opportunity to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay,’” he said.

Hardemon said politicians in a campaign “will promise you the world.”

He said commissioners got the text of agreement with the stadium the night before they voted. “There is absolutely nothing in it for the black community,” he said. “The taxpayers are putting $289 million and what are we getting out of it?

Hardemon said he has “a fundamental problem” giving tax dollars to a Ross, a billionaire, so he can “invest in his private asset.”

“It’s about him making more money,” he said.

“Without a Community Benefit Agreement, I’m going to tell my mama to vote ‘Hell no!’”