Friday, April 05, 2013

The Miami Herald, The Homestead Motorsports Complex, and Ralph Sanchez ... by gimleteye

I never knew Ralph Sanchez, except indirectly during the decade as a civic activist I battled land use issues related to the Homestead Air Force Base.

Sanchez was one of the principal owners, along with Wayne Huizinga, of the Homestead Motorsports Complex, nearby. The idea for the county-financed deal materialized at virtually the same time as the ill-fated plan to privatize the air base and convert it to become a commercial airport benefiting the reconstituted board of the Latin Builders Association. Both plans arose from the ruins of disaster.

Hurricane Andrew, in 1992, devastated Homestead, but the response of the business elite to the disaster was not unlike using the calamity of war as a pretext for to mine profits. Wars are good for business. That certainly was how Homestead rolled after the category five hurricane, and the case with the Homestead Motorsports Complex.

As fate had it, I arrived in Miami with my family from Key West the weekend after Hurricane Andrew. I only knew Homestead as a pass-through agricultural community, a last gasp of the old South on the way to the Keys. I also understood the importance of preserving farmland as filters for clean water desperately needed for Biscayne Bay and the Everglades to function. So both the Motorsports Complex and the air base, sited squarely in the middle of wetlands of national importance, were out of place.

The Homestead Motorsports Complex was pitched as a necessity, a way to create economic activity in Homestead and "jobs" after Hurricane Andrew. How the deal was constructed with tax payer money never made it into the Herald obituary. Here is how the Herald put it:

"Sanchez, however, already had solicited governmental support to build a permanent racing facility in Homestead as a significant project toward the devastated area’s recovery from Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Ground was broken in 1993. The picturesque facility with its 1.5-mile oval sprung up in time for Dale Jarrett to headline NASCAR’s initial venture here with a dramatic Nationwide (then Busch) series victory in November 1995."

I am not a NASCAR fan. I've never been to the Motorsports complex, once. But to skip over the facts how county tax dollars, in 1993, were used and never recovered seems pertinent. At the time, observers knew the project was cooked faster than a fried egg on a racing car engine block. The money flow was scarcely "transparent".

To call Sanchez' work a "solicitation" is, well, wrong. The picturesque deal involved a contract between the county that gave up tens of millions of dollars to the investors, featuring Sanchez prominently. Ask Maurice Ferre. It didn't take long for the Sanchez/ Huizinga partnership to be flipped to new owners after the facility was completed; the county never got a dime back.

Today, the Homestead Motorsports Complex is scarcely the jobs generator it was promised to be. I don't know whether Sanchez was a great man, a great businessman, or a great family man. May he rest in more peace than we obtain here, on earth.


Anonymous said...

Perfectly said. He may have been a nice guy and good family man but the reality is that he and Huizenga got the much better end of a business deal leaving the Homestead taxpayers holding the bag.

Anonymous said...

I am shocked, not really, that the feeble minded Homestead crowd made a terrible deal and were taken advantage of by sharks.
Until the good people of Homestead wake up and start questioning the motives of the mayor and city council look forward to many more of these events in the future.

Anonymous said...

Homestead will be flooded by rising waters before the graft and insider dealing stops.

Geniusofdespair said...

I only knew Ralph because I windsurfed in the rock pit in the middle of the track during a race once....Ralph paid us.


sundayniagara said...

When I first saw the plans for this track at the last Indy Car race in downtown Miami, a drag strip was part of that model, which was never built. This would have made racing a weekly event at Homestead. Nowadays, there is drag racing bi-weekly on pit road & I wonder how many people know that.

I hear there is a movement afoot to finally build the drag strip adjacent to the south side of the oval. I am in favor of this, as I make the trip annualy to Gainesville for the NHRA Gatornationals and I know with virtual certainty that NHRA would love to put a major event in Homestead.

I agree that the county got taken on this deal, but the track is there, so we might as well do something with it.

There is a drag strip on US 27 called Countyline Raceway, but it's a dump and I never go there, preferring instead to go to Immokalee Regional Raceway in southwest Florida.

Anonymous said...

Ask Willie Bermello. He can be 'helpful'. Lol.