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Since it was built in the 1960s, Floyd Hull Stadium, on SW Eighth Avenue just off State Road 84 behind the National Guard Armory, has been operated by volunteer members of the Federal Little League, a local nonprofit organization.
During that period, it has enjoyed a harmonious relationship with Fort Lauderdale government — one that has only just recently turned nasty.
"The agreement with the city was that you [Federal Little League] can build whatever you want, and the city's end was to keep up the maintenance," explains John Maginnis, the league's current president. Until 1998, the organization hosted the Big League World Series, for 16- to 18-year-olds, and afterward it was the site of that tournament's Southern regional.
Then the hurricanes hit in 2005, followed by a veritable tsunami of maintenance costs. The concession stand was blown away. So was the awning that shaded the grandstand. An inspector even flunked the park for lacking compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. All of these were costs that Maginnis says were the city's responsibility.
Not only did the city fail to use federally allocated funds to make those repairs, Maginnis says, but it chose the park grounds to be a dumpsite for hurricane debris. "It basically shut down the park for months," he fumes.
Since the city still hasn't paid to make repairs to the stadium, the Federal Little League has suffered to attract baseball tournaments and fans not keen on sitting in seats with no shade.
This past fall, the league filed suit against Fort Lauderdale, alleging it had violated terms of the lease. In November, the City Commission used that same lease to assert control over the property's uses.
That meant that the league would have to ask the city's permission for the privilege of using a park — as well as a fundraising facility called the Morton Activity Center — that it built at its own expense. "They are basically threatening to lock us out of our own park," says Maginnis, who played in the park in the 1970s as a little leaguer.
City Attorney Jeff Stewart seems to think he's on the winning team.
"You have to look at the lease," he says. "The improvements on the property belong to the city."