Don't Take Me Out For a Ballpark

Downtown Fort Lauderdale residents rehabbing a neighborhood say you can take that stadium site and put it… elsewhere

Perhaps this cranial positioning is the reason that, thus far, no one from the city, including Commissioner Tim Smith, whose district includes Flagler Heights, has officially spoken to the civic association about the stadium proposal. Smith, who has vocalized his support in the press for a downtown stadium, speculates that dialogue with a would-be crushed community is premature. "I haven't gone to speak with [the association] because it's not a government proposal," he says.

He's not the only one keeping mum. Neither city manager Floyd Johnson nor the Marlins management has spoken with residents or returned calls from New Times, although Fort Lauderdale mayor Jim Naugle did concede that the Flagler Heights neighborhood was one of the more difficult of the proposed Broward sites. "It's the site with the most challenges," he admits, referring to the number of different property owners (just shy of 100) and the onslaught of traffic a baseball stadium would draw, clogging already congested arteries like I95, Broward Boulevard, and Sistrunk Boulevard, the latter of which runs through Commissioner Carlton Moore's district. Moore has vehemently opposed the proposed downtown site, perceiving it and its subsequently hellish traffic on game days as a bane to his constituents' communities.

Despite problems with transportation and community impact, not everyone linked to the area is loath to support the idea of a neighborhood ballpark. Mike Farber, a resident and landlord in Flagler Heights, believes the stadium might be a one-chance-only deal for a community in dire need of economic development. "It's not every day that the opportunity for a significant public amenity comes along," he explains.

Farber, who describes his own residence as a quaint house with low property taxes, says that he as well as a majority of other Flagler Heights property owners are open to considering fair offers for their land, and he feels that the contingent of anti-stadium property owners is not an accurate representation of the collective community's interests. "People should keep an open mind," he states.

Theoretically, if the Flagler Heights site is approved and a majority of landowners do accept appraiser-guided offers, the city will likely enforce eminent domain to remove the remaining property owners, and the condemning authority -- be it the Downtown Development Authority, the county, the Community Redevelopment Agency, or the city itself -- with the help of a court, would decide the final sums to be presented to the area's holdouts.

With a city manager -- who has not spoken to civic leaders -- about to present his mystery recommendations for a stadium to the commission on September 8, the fate of the Flagler Heights community lies in precarious, if not uninformed, hands. And as proposals and negotiations drag on, some homeowners might be less inclined to restore a property that might be doomed for demolition. Farnzen feels that this is precisely what the city wants.

"They try to discourage people from fixing up their houses because they want the properties to remain worthless so they can grab the land. It's obvious that this land is worth a king's ransom, and they want it for nothing," he growls.

"We're not a bunch of nitwits. We know what we've got here, and they're not going to get it."

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