Miami Open tennis tournament faces last-minute snag in move to Hard Rock Stadium

On the brink of a crucial vote approving its move to Hard Rock Stadium, the Miami Open tennis tournament has broken with Mayor Carlos Gimenez over a proposed deal to settle money the county says the for-profit event owes the parks department.

Gimenez initially agreed to accept $1.3 million from the International Players Championship, which owns the tournament, to cover disputed bills from the event’s yearly occupation of the tennis facility at Miami-Dade’s Crandon Park. But that agreement fell apart Monday when Gimenez requested further negotiations on the amount, according to a summary of the meeting provided by the tournament.

With a final vote scheduled for Tuesday in an agreement that was made public only last week, the two sides have not reached an agreement, according to people on both sides. Adam Barrett, the tournament director, sent an email to county commissioners Monday afternoon saying it opposes Gimenez’s new proposal to submit the disputed bills to possible arbitration.

“As the Tournament respectfully told Mayor Gimenez this morning, the Tournament negotiated the Agreement to address and resolve, as a complete package, all relocation issues at the same time,” Barrett wrote. “Ambiguity and delay in any important aspect simply does not work.”

The last-minute dispute thrust the Miami Open agreement into question as the County Commission began its meeting. Gimenez negotiated a deal to move the Open to a $53 million tennis complex the Miami Dolphins want to build next to Hard Rock Stadium. Main matches would be held in the football stadium itself, while most of the play would unfold in about two dozen courts outside on what are now parking lots.

Crandon spends about $1 million a year maintaining the tennis stadium that houses the tournament’s main matches at Crandon, and said the spring event itself typically amounts to a financial wash otherwise.

The $1 million expense would continue after a tournament exit, and the proposed Hard Rock deal would eventually include a $1 million subsidy for the event as part of an existing agreement that pays the Dolphins up to $5 million a year for recruiting large sporting events. That 2014 agreement was tied to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross agreeing to privately fund stadium renovations now reportedly valued at roughly $500 million.

Both sides of the Miami Open talks described the original deal as the last chance to keep the tournament in Miami-Dade, since county parks rules have thwarted expansion plans by the tournament’s owner at Crandon. Without an improvement to the tournament space, International Players Championship and its parent company, IMG, have promised to move the Open out of Miami. The deal calls for the Miami Open to move to Miami Gardens in 2019, with 2018 being its last time at Crandon since debuting there in the 1980s.

The last-minute dispute between Gimenez and the tournament involves yearly audits that attempt to reconcile money the tournament owes Miami-Dade as the event’s landlord. The tournament complained of late audits, with the 2014 report only arriving in March 2017. In a memo to commissioners on Tuesday, Gimenez seemed to confirm significant lag times, since he described the 2015 audit as “pending” — along with tournament audits from 2016 and 2017.