One more step towards Miami Open relocation

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It is still a long way from a done deal.

But one issue in the Miami Open’s quest to relocate from its current home on Key Biscayne, Fla. to the Miami Dolphins’ stadium in a suburb north of Miami has been resolved.

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The tournament (which is owned by the management agency behemoth IMG) has concluded a lease termination agreement with Miami-Dade County. 

The agreement would terminate its lease agreement with the Key Biscayne site at the end of the 2018 edition of the event, subject to some financial compensation for outstanding issues.

The lease currently runs until 2023.

That’s according to the Miami Herald. The full story is here.

The Miami Dolphins owner proposes a $53 million complex to be built in the Hard Rock Stadium parking lots.

That deal, however, “would not be effective unless and until the tournament and Stadium LLC (the Hard Rock Stadium’s company) finalize their agreement for the relocation of the Miami Open to the Hard Rock Stadium site,” per the document posted here and dated Dec. 5, 2017.

It also is subject to the approval of the Miami-Dade commissioners.

The contract states that the tournament and the Hard Rock Stadium venue have been negotiating a potential relocation, provided the county and the Miami Open reached agreement on their termination of their own contract.

So in that chicken-and-egg dance, one side is in place.

Miami
There are access issues to get to the current site on Key Biscayne – with only one way in – but the scenery can’t be beat. (Stephanie Myles, Tennis.Life)

From a park to … a parking lot

Included in the tentative agreement is a pact for the tournament not to move out of Miami-Dade County for the next 20 years, subject to stiff penalties that start at $12.5 million in the first year.

The county deems a positive that it would continue to reap the benefits of the economic impact of the joint WTA/ATP Tour event, even if it does take an initial $1 million loss on the subsidy side every time the event is held.

A year ago, there was speculation the Miami Open was considering moving to Orlando. Hence, it’s in the county’s interest in keeping the event and the revenue it generates, regardless of circumstances.

The Miami Open has been trying for years to expand and upgrade the facilities at its current location. But despite the county’s support, it has been unable to get past the objections of the Matheson family – specially a man named Bruce Matheson.

The family owned the parkland on which the site stands and continues to hold legal rights. It deeded the large area to the county back in 1940.

Miami
The main stadium at the Miami Open is fine, if lacking state-of-the-art luxury suites. But the rest of the courts feel rickety and temporary. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The issue has gone through the courts multiple times, to no avail.

According to the Herald, Stephen Ross (the owner of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and the stadium) has proposed a $53 million tennis complex to be built in the stadium’s parking lots as part of the new site.

New complex in North Miami

According to the Herald, the proposal would include a stadium court inside the football stadium (which, aesthetically, is far from ideal), a permanent Grandstand as well as permanent match courts and practice courts.

Here’s what the then-SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre) in Toronto looked like some years ago, when an indoor winter ATP Tour event was briefly held in that venue.

Miami
(From Tennis Canada’s archives)

So, putting aside the fact that the tournament would theoretically be held in more upgraded conditions, it would be moving from a park to … a parking lot, in the name of progress.

Bruce Matheson, the front man for the extended Matheson family, is no stranger to litigation when it comes to professional sports in the Miami area. He doesn’t seem to have unanimous support within the family, he has held sway so far when it comes to the Miami Open.

Miami
A new facility in the Hard Rock Stadium parking lot would definitely be lacking the trees and nature currently featured at the event. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Relocation dance not a new move

Anyone who follows the vagaries of the threats by professional sports teams in the U.S. to relocate, if they don’t get new stadiums built, knows that this can be a long process with plenty of empty threats and red herrings.

In the end, there’s a certain element of blackmail to it.

Give us the money to build a new facility, or we’ll take our team (and its economic impact) somewhere else. That’s the usual modus operandi. Often, it ends up working.

Miami-Dade County experienced that very dynamic for years as Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins threatened this very thing. Ultimately, the team got its way, and the country commissioners (and the city officials) didn’t come out looking very good as a multi-million-dollar commitment was made for a venue whose profits largely returned to the team owners.

In this case, though, the IMG and the tournament are up against one man – a man who seems more stubborn than an entire country of commissioners put together.

But the last word has yet to be spoken.

The tournament will remain in its current location, at least for 2018.

Beyond that, its fate seems a long way from being determined – still.

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