Marlins Park remains the worst stadium deal in American history. Miamians are still on the hook for more than $2.4 billion in costs for a ballpark they didn’t want, all to benefit the most hated owner in professional sports. Taxpayers were so pissed that they recalled Carlos Alvarez, the county mayor who signed off on the deal.
But Alvarez wasn’t actually the architect of the Marlins Park fiasco. That honor falls to County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, the commission’s chairman at the time, who personally muscled the awful deal through while also taking tens of thousands of dollars from firms bidding on the ballpark.
Barreiro was such a simpering lackey to Jeffrey Loria that during a final debate on the deal, then-Commissioner Katy Sorensen offered this memorable barb: “I’d like to offer a friendly amendment,” she said, “to name the stadium Bruno Barreiro Stadium.”
Unlike Alvarez, Barreiro — remarkably — never lost his seat as public outrage curdled over the Marlins train robbery. And now the commissioner wants to be a U.S. congressman. The Trump-backing Republican announced yesterday that he’s going to run for the retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat.
“I have a pulse for the needs of our community, and understand the importance of having a strong advocate for South Floridians in Washington, D.C.,” Barreiro said in a statement. (He didn’t immediately return a call from New Times.)
It’s hard to overstate just what a catastrophe Marlins Park has been for Miami. Loria and his frat-boy former stepson David Samson outright lied to Barreiro and his colleagues about how much profit the team was turning while setting up a sweetheart deal likely to end with them selling the team for a cool billion-dollar profit.
Every promise Barreiro made about the stadium almost immediately fell short. Virtually zero new business has moved into Little Havana near the ballpark (as every reputable economist said would happen). The Fish are still last in the National League in attendance. And Miami’s economy has received no measurable bump from having a new stadium.
Well, that’s not entirely fair. One small sector of the economy did get a healthy, temporary bump — the contractors who made millions building the boondoggle. And lo and behold, Barreiro profited handsomely from those same companies before steamrolling their stadium through his commission. Here’s what a New Times investigation found:
A New Times review has found that the former county commission chairman, whose district includes Little Havana and the site for the new park, took almost $40,000 in donations in 2008 — one in every six dollars of his total take — from firms with an interest in bidding on the project.
What’s more, over the next two years, the same interests continued to feed other key stadium deal backers.
Among these opportunists is a hodgepodge of companies including Trigam LLC, Parsons, Skanska, Thunder Electrical, and others. The Munilla family, a finalist to build the $94 million garage project, donated $6,500. A number of the companies that gave Barreiro cash later earned lucrative contracts to build the park; they include H&J Foundation, Contex Construction, and John J. Kirlin Enterprises.
Barreiro — who didn’t return messages left with a spokeswoman — hadn’t always been a best friend to the construction industry. In 2004, when he raised $63,000 for re-election, less than $1,000 came from the builders and contractors.
“Of course there’s a connection between these donations and Barreiro’s role in shepherding through this deal,” says Norman Braman, the auto magnate who bankrolled Alvarez’s recall. “You think it’s just a coincidence? That’s how this County Commission operates. Special interests buy candidates votes and then get a piece of the pie.”
More recently, Barreiro pushed through a no-bid deal allowing Jorge Perez’s Related Group to buy a 34-unit building in Shenandoah that the mega-developer quickly earned millions in grants to renovate. Now why would Barreiro be so generous to Perez?
Throughout the election cycle, various individuals and entities that share an address with the Related Group’s Biscayne Boulevard headquarters wrote 37 separate checks to Barreiro’s campaign for $500 (the maximum allowable under law), totaling $18,500.
Bruno Barreiro: a county commissioner always ready to screw over taxpayers at the bidding of very wealthy men who give him money. Actually, Bruno would fit in great in Washington.