News: Flamingo Tennis Renovation Drama Continues

The same week that a host of accusations of wrongdoing on the part of contracted management at the tennis center at Flamingo Park was posted on a website and circulated broadly via email, one city commissioner is vowing to continue the fight for renovations supported by the Miami Beach Tennis Players Association (MBTPA).

Commissioner Michael Gongora said that he is likely to call for a discussion on the specific makeup of new tennis courts in Flamingo Park, in September, when the full commission is expected to be in town.

“We should be able to discuss it in September,” Gongora told SunPost. “I don’t think they have started the courts yet – unless the administration rushes through the project faster than others.”

It won’t be the first time that the issue will have been resurrected after apparently being resolved. In fact, the length and back and forth of the project are key complaints of the MBTPA.

“There have been so many different plans – I think we are on ‘L’ or ‘M’ now,” said MBTPA President Rebecca Boyce. “It’s been going on since 2007 when the tennis stadium and three courts were destroyed and they created the Great Lawn.”

Since then, plans have morphed repeatedly.

There was nothing noticed that would let an average voter know that there was going to be action taken. I don’t think the process was correct. I think there might be a problem with the legality.” – Commissioner Michael Gongora

“At first there were going to be 18 courts, then that got knocked down to 17,” Boyce said. “The original plan reduced the size of the club house from 5,000 square feet to 3900 square feet and there was going to be walking lanes connecting Meridian and Lenox – right through the tennis center.”

In 2008, Boyce said that she became aware that no one who actually knew tennis was actually involved in creating the plan.

The MBTPA was created to address issues on behalf of approximately 500 members. Still, the project languished in the planning stage. In Sept. 2009, the city commission voted to approve 17 new clay courts. Then on February 3, 2010, the commission re-voted and this time decided to approve 12 clay courts and 5 hard courts. Just months later, in May, the commission reversed itself again and approved the 17 clay courts.

Boyce said that the tennis community was pleased following the May decision and that they assumed it was the end of the issue. A poll taken of association members clearly illustrated the desire for clay courts as opposed to hard courts. Clay courts are generally seen as being safer, and for being for more serious players – international hard court tennis competition is not common.

But the drama just would not end.

At the June 9, 2010 city commission meeting, Commissioner Deede Weithorn had a minimally related item placed on the consent agenda to refer discussion of placing hard courts somewhere in the city to a committee. That was when things got confusing.

“Then Deede pulled it off of the consent agenda and put it on the agenda for afternoon discussion,” Gongora said. “When it comes up, [Commissioner Jonah Wolfson] makes a motion to change the configuration at Flamingo to 12 clay court and 5 hard court – again. Deede seconded the motion and it got approved.”

Gongora said he thinks there is something very wrong with the process.

“There was no motion to reconsider the prior vote, which seems like it would be appropriate,” Gongora said. He also said that the commission voted on an item that was not publicly noticed.

“There was nothing noticed that would let an average voter know that there was going to be action taken,” Gongora said. “I don’t think the process was correct. I think there might be a problem with the legality.”

Gongora said there is definitely a problem with the appropriateness of the stealth decision-making process. He indicated that he wanted to discuss the process with the city’s legal team.

“Tennis is controversial in Miami Beach and we shouldn’t discuss it without a full commission,” Gongora said. At least one commission member will be absent in July and the commission does not meet in August.

Gongora would not speculate on what the questionable turnaround was about. He said that the overall length of the process – now in its third year – is because there are so many interested parties – tennis players and other park users, neighborhood associations, management, and Miami Beach High.

Commissioner Jonah Wolfson did not respond to emails requesting comment.

However, Boyce said she believes that it is certain administrators at Miami Beach High School who have pushed for hard courts at Flamingo and that somehow their influence is being wielded in city hall.

“There’s something else going on here,” Boyce said. “Clearly this isn’t about what’s good for the public or what’s good for kids. Clay courts are better for kids.”

Meanwhile, also this week, the Miami Mirror blog spot posted a story blasting management at Flamingo Park’s tennis center, complete with allegations of malfeasance, narcotics and incompetence. A detailed package of information supporting those allegations had been presented to SunPost earlier this year. However, the source of the research could not be fully vetted.

“There is a lot of strange stuff going on,” Boyce said.

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