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Miami Herald - 12/19/04 -

HIALEAH: Martinez rivals defeat proposal on racetrack fate

The Hialeah City Council voted down a proposal to hire a design firm to draft plans for Hialeah Park racetrack -- a city landmark that has been unused for years.


In a rare defeat, the pro-Martinez majority on the Hialeah City Council failed to muster the votes to get plans drawn for Hialeah Park, a former haven for horse racing.

City Council Vice President Esteban ''Steve'' Bovo, who works for the racetrack, recused himself from the vote Tuesday, which left three of Mayor Raul Martinez's arch foes, Vanessa Bravo, Roberto Casas and Cindy Miel, in the majority, and they blocked the move to hire the firm, Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co.

''It doesn't make sense to me that the taxpayers would pay for the design of the racetrack when the one that is going to get the money for it is the owner,'' Miel said in a phone interview Thursday, referring to park owner John Brunetti. ``He should pay for it.''

Martinez disagreed, saying Bravo, Casas and Miel were doing a disservice to the city by rejecting the proposal.

''I proposed something that I think would have been good for the city,'' Martinez said in a phone interview Friday. ``But it was rejected by the council and that's the end of it.''

The idea was first brought before the council in August, when City Attorney William Grodnick asked for permission to begin a search for a design firm. His intent was for city officials and the selected design firm to work with Brunetti in determining the site's future.

The historical park, which opened in 1925 and has long been known for its Mediterranean-style architecture, lost its appeal a few years ago when it ran into financial troubles and the thrill of horse racing diminished.

After Grodnick received the go-ahead from the council to begin the search, Martinez named a selection committee. The members included longtime City Clerk Dan DeLoach, Director of Grants and Human Services Frederick H. Marinelli and Acting Zoning Director Debora Storch.

The selection team looked at experience and personnel in the three firms that submitted proposals: Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co.; Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin Lopez Rinehart Inc.; and Bermello, Ajamil & Partners Inc. The committee also interviewed officials of the firms.

According to a report from the selection committee, the top-ranked firm had the best vision for the development of the 200-acre site. Ideas from Andres Duany, the principal of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., included building residential and office space surrounding a lake area in the park, with upscale shopping nearby.

Rather than maintaining the track's clubhouse as a museum, Duany suggested turning it into a concert hall, cultural center or library. The site's lush landscaping would feature prominently in the design.

Grodnick presented the selection committee's choice of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. to the council on Tuesday, explaining the firm would work for 45 days on a master plan and seek input from council members and the mayor. The cost would be under $60,000.

''I think it will be well worth the city to do this,'' Grodnick said during the council meeting.

Council members asked no questions before casting their votes. The three opponents gave no reason at the meeting as to why they voted against the proposal.

In a phone interview Friday, Casas said he was against any projects at the racetrack -- unless it is transformed into a park.

''I think we should find money from the state and federal government to buy the track and make it a national park,'' Casas said. ``It's a piece of history. I don't think we should build on it.''

Grodnick said Tuesday's vote does not end the council's interest in the racetrack. Any plan for land use or zoning change on the property, he said, must first be approved by the council. City officials will have a hand in shaping development on the site, but the vote presents a delay, Grodnick said.

''This doesn't mean that the city won't have an opportunity to review and have input in the future course of the racetrack,'' Grodnick said. ``This was just a missed opportunity to do it sooner rather than later