February 1, 2020 / 12:18 PM / 6 months ago

For Miami stadium's neighbours, Super Bowl brings years-old tensions to surface

MIAMI (Reuters) - Renowned for flashy events and wild parties, South Florida has hosted more Super Bowls than anywhere. But many of those who live in the shadow of Hard Rock Stadium, site of Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV and home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, are hardly in a party mood.

Residents of Miami Gardens, the mostly black, working class city surrounding the stadium, have long felt neglected and even exploited by the Dolphins organization. They say their quality of life has become a casualty in the region’s eternal quest for tourism dollars, and fear the area’s black community faces a fresh chapter in a history of displacement. 

So instead of joining millions of Americans celebrating this weekend’s game, protesters will take to the streets outside the venue on Sunday to express their frustration. Specifically, they want to stop a proposal to bring Formula One auto racing to Miami beginning in 2021, through a partnership between Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and race promoter Formula One Group.

Locals say racial and socioeconomic bias is behind the plan. “When you live in these communities,” said Kevin Williams, principal at Norwood Elementary, which sits a stone’s throw from the stadium, “money talks, everything else walks.” 

Ross and Formula One say the event could generate $400 million a year, but locals are more concerned about noise and pollution. 

“There may be some benefits, but they don’t outweigh the health of our children,” said Williams.

Residents have suggested relocating the race to the Homestead Miami Speedway, 46 miles (74 km) south of Hard Rock. But their efforts have hit walls.

Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Republican now running for Congress with an endorsement from President Donald Trump, last year vetoed a measure to condition the event on local government approval.

A new measure up for a vote on Feb. 4 would require the plan’s sponsors to apply for a special permit and conduct public hearings. But Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who represents Miami Gardens and sponsored the measure, told Reuters she is pessimistic about its chances of success.

A call to Gimenez’s office was not returned.

YEARS OF FRUSTRATION

Frustration in this bedroom community of 113,000, where rows of one-floor, concrete homes squeeze between busy thoroughfares, has boiled for years as Hard Rock has grown into a super-venue for concerts and sports.

Spectacles that wealthier, whiter communities have blocked often wind up at Hard Rock. The Miami Open tennis tournament moved there after organizers reached an impasse with the previous venue in Key Biscayne. The Rolling Loud hip hop festival relocated to Hard Rock in 2018 when it failed to reach a deal at downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park. 

Indeed, the Formula One venture was headed for downtown until residents there hired a local attorney to help fight it, leading to a new plan for a track winding around Hard Rock.

Miami Gardens residents hired the same lawyer - Samuel Dubbin - but so far, they are not having as much luck as their deeper-pocketed neighbours.

When promoters made the venue switch in April, Dolphins Chief Executive Tom Garfinkel cited traffic and construction disruptions in downtown Miami as a reason.

The concerns in Miami Gardens are the same, Dubbin told Reuters. “It threatens the severe disruption to normal life,” he said, “and the noise inflicted on the people is undoubtedly at a level that threatens hearing loss.”

Studies have shown links between noise pollution and health problems. Formula One cars generate more than 130 decibels of sound at close range, according to a September report by the auditor for the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners — more than a rock concert, and nearly as much as a jet engine. Health professionals peg the top of the safe noise range at about 70-75 decibels.

Miami Gardens resident Karen Hunter Jackson, 61, said she was worried about air pollution and described the F1 plan as “environmental racism.” 

“It’s an insult to us to suggest we trade our health for your new jobs,” she said.

FRAUGHT HISTORY

Formula One said any suggestion that the proposed location at Hard Rock Stadium was motivated by bias is wrong. “It’s a great location for a race,” it said in a statement to Reuters.

A spokesman for the Miami Dolphins declined to comment.

Formula One said the amount of pollution produced by F1 cars is “tiny,” and that race organizers have made concessions to locals, including a pledge not to begin weekend races before 3 p.m. on Fridays, to limit noise pollution.

To some locals, the controversy has dredged up painful memories of a legacy of displacement and voicelessness.

Many Miami Gardens residents have roots in Overtown, a celebrated black community that lost most of its population in the 1960s, when Interstate-95 was extended through Miami. Its residents dispersed to surrounding areas that remained unincorporated for decades.

Only in 2003 did Miami Gardens incorporate as a city, and only because “the services that our area received were not up to snuff,” Jackson said.

Eventually, Jordan fears, Miami Gardens locals will get fed up enough to leave, like many of their predecessors. She said that is why she plans to attend Sunday’s rally. 

“It really concerns me,” she said, “that it may be changing our community all over again.”

Reporting by Nick Brown; Editing by Frank McGurty and Daniel Wallis

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