The Miami Cab Ride from Seaport to Airport
It is about a 20 minute ride from the Port of Miami to the Miami International Airport. The cost? $24 plus tip. Generally these are pretty boring rides with a less than talkative taxi driver who really just wants to run a shuttle service. But sometimes as passengers you get lucky and find someone who wants to talk about his job, his place in life.
On December 14, my wife and I got one of the talkative ones. My wife, who knows something about licensing cab drivers struck up a light conversation and quickly we knew a lot about our driver. He was from Haiti, he rented the cab for about $150 a day and needed about $60 worth of gas to bring people back and forth from the seaport to the airport or vice versa. He wouldn’t say if he was having a good day.
As we pulled out of the seaport, the big white building that houses the National Basketball Association’s Miami Heat was adjacent to the car.
The taxi driver from Haiti had something in common with Heat owner Micky Arison although the cabbie didn’t realize it at the time. Both the Heat owner and the cab driver were getting government subsidies although unlike Arison, the cab driver was facing a January 1 cut off of some of his subsidies.
The cab driver, who is willing to work, is going to be losing a portion of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps subsidy.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s website, “SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities. SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net. The Food and Nutrition Service works with State agencies, nutrition educators, and neighborhood and faith-based organizations to ensure that those eligible for nutrition assistance can make informed decisions about applying for the program and can access benefits. FNS also works with State partners and the retail community to improve program administration and ensure program integrity.”
The program will be slashed as of January 1 by federal lawmakers.
Arison, on the other hand, is looking for another handout from Miami-Dade because the 13-year-old arena is getting long in the tooth. The Heat organization was in talks with local officials at the beginning of the summer looking to subsidies to keep the arena in tip top shape. Miami Dade better fork over more money or else.
There was a red light that briefly stopped our ride in front of the building and there was a huge banner in front of the place celebrating the basketball team’s 2006, 2012 and 2013 championships.
There is a thought that spending hundreds of millions of dollars on sports venues is well worth it especially because it brings an intangible to a community. A feeling of pride that the community has a big league team and a swelling of the chest when a team wins a championship.
Looking at the banner, I asked the driver what did that banner mean to him. His reply was simple.
“It means nothing.”
The driver continued and then made a left and the “or else” became plainly visible. The Miami Arena doesn’t exist anymore.
Miami got an NBA franchise in 1987 based on the fact the city was building an arena on the public dime. The basketball team started play in 1988.
The Miami Arena was built with Florida public funds and opened in 1988. Looking back, the cost of the arena was cheap; its sticker price was $53 million. Within two years, NBA Commissioner David Stern was wondering out loud why his league bothered to put a team in an inadequate arena that lacked high-revenue-generating luxury boxes and high-end seating. The National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers moved into a new building in Sunrise in 1998, and the Miami Heat was in a new arena the following year.
The Miami Arena was done as a serious entertainment spot by 2000.
In 2004, the Miami Arena Web site still listed upcoming events but there was a ribbon that ran across the site screaming out. “The Miami Arena, former home of the Miami Heat and Florida Panthers, will be auctioned off on August 10, 2004 in ‘as is’ condition. The minimum purchase price is $25,000,100. The auction will be organized by Fisher Auction Co., Inc. of Pompano Beach, Florida.”
For $25 million, 100 dollars, someone could have owned a useless structure that would have had to be razed by the highest bidder. Miami wasn’t going to use that $25,000,100 to pay off the Arena’s remaining debts. Nope, the plan was to use that money to help fund a proposed “Miami” Marlins baseball park.
The building was taken down in 2008.
The Heat ownership put up some of the funding for its $241.3 million arena. But local taxpayers are still responsible for about $142 million, or 59 percent of its cost. The Panthers moved north of the city to a $212 million arena, and Broward County residents are picking up about $184 million, or 87 percent of the total cost. In both cases, local municipalities are paying off the debt through hotel/motels and rental-car taxes.
Arison’s team gets about $6.4 million annually from Miami-Dade to pay building expenses. The franchise has a deal with the city through 2029 and in exchange, the franchise-which runs the building-is supposed to pay Miami Dade a stipend. The franchise has never given any money to the government. Now the team is asking Miami-Dade elected officials to increase that annual subsidy to as much as $17 million a year. The team would be willing to extend the lease for the building with Miami-Dade officials. The franchise’s agreement with the airlines that has naming rights to the building ends in 2019 and Miami-Dade officials may have to chip in more money should the team not be able to find a naming rights partner.
Arison has not issued a threat in terms of moving the franchise. He is stuck because of his lease for another 16 years. So he is looking for aid to make sure the building, with renovations, remains a 21st century state of the art facility.
Allegedly, the Miami Heat franchise brings $1.5 billion in annual spending to Miami. The figure comes from the team which did a study of the Heat’s worth to the area. It seems far-fetched.
As we left that area, we go onto a highway and to the left was the new Miami Marlins ballpark. From the distance, it was a beautiful structure but the stadium has not been well received and there are questions about how the stadium was financed.
The airport was nearby and we bade a pleasant farewell to the driver. Once inside the airport, my wife and I were discussing the cab driver and his $210 need to break even when a man who looked more like a college student interrupted and said he just graduated school and was no longer driving a cab. He said Miami cab driver work virtually for nothing for four months a year and he was glad to get out of his cab.
The flight was canceled because of a snow and ice storm in New York, so we stuck around for another day, stayed at a place not far from where the Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross houses his team. Ross also has his hand out. He wants a quarter of a billion dollars to upgrade his football facility.
The cost of housing big league sports teams continues to grow and now it is David Beckham who has his eye on Miami. Apparently he would like to establish a Major League Soccer team there. But he needs a government hand out as well.
Beckham, who is from England, has learned enough about America to know, if you want a sports team go to city hall and ask for some cash. Chances are you will get what you need unlike the cab driver whose SNAP payments evaporate on New Year’s Day.
Evan Weiner, the United States Sports Academy’s 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award winner, can be reached at email@example.com. He has written several e-books on sports, including, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition,” which is available at www.bickley.com and Amazon.com.