René García calls for more oversight on FTX Arena money spending
Image via AP.

FTX Arena AP Photo
'When we voted on it originally, there was no comprehensive plan that came with it.'

When the home of the Miami Heat this year became the first United States sports arena to bear the moniker of a cryptocurrency exchange, details were sparse on how Miami-Dade would spend funds from the $135 million naming rights deal.

Now, an early critic of the 19-year agreement to re-christen the building as FTX Arena wants annual report cards detailing where the county’s expected $90 million cut of the money through 2040 goes.

Commissioners in March approved the deal to replace long-standing arena sponsor American Airlines with two-year-old United States-based crypto exchange FTX US.

The new arrangement provides Miami-Dade with a greater sum of money than it got through its prior $2.1 million-per-year deal with American, which yielded the county just $100,000 annually.

Another selling point of the agreement sponsored by Commissioner Keon Hardemon: the county’s share of the naming rights deal is divided among the county’s 13 commission districts to be spent on fighting gun violence and poverty.

But aside from stating that the money would go toward those efforts, the legislation authorizing the deal was otherwise light on specifics — a contention Commissioner René García made at the time when he cast the sole “no” vote from the county dais.

The former state Senator is now sponsoring a resolution, up for a vote Thursday, that would direct Mayor Daniella Levine Cava’s administration to “annually review, audit, analyze, and report to the Board on the use of all funds disbursed” from the county’s portion of the deal.

“When we voted on it originally, there was no comprehensive plan that came with it,” he told Florida Politics on Tuesday. “We just voted for the allocation of dollars to those districts. The plan came far later.”

That plan from Levine Cava’s office came in June amid a spate of shootings across Miami-Dade, which followed a 13% year-over-year gun rise in homicides in 2020. Nearly one in four victims were aged 21 or younger. Since 2016, homicides countywide have risen 45%, according to Miami-Dade records.

This time, García joined his fellow commissioners in voting favorably.

Titled the “Peace and Prosperity Plan,” the initiative through 2022 is to spend nearly $7.8 million on a variety of “prevention, intervention and reentry” programs aimed at refocusing at-risk youths toward productive activities and addressing social and economic disparities.

The plan features mostly summer and after-school programs but also includes added surveillance efforts like social media monitoring and grants for businesses to install cameras with livestreams accessible to police.

“We’re going to be creating new outlets for the highest-risk youth,” Levine Cava told commissioners on June 8. “There is no time to waste.”

Plan participants include youth enrichment program Fit2Lead, Miami-Dade Police Department, the Children’s Trust, Miami-Dade Public Schools, South Florida Workforce Investment Board and Foundation for New Education Initiatives.

The plan also includes a $32.1 million public housing and community revitalization program, which will be funded with public housing and community development block grants, as well as a possible broadening of the county’s civil citation program through which police hand out tickets instead of arresting offenders of certain misdemeanors.

Built into the plan are annual “independent evaluations” to rate programs based on three key indicators: reduction in homicides, reduction in contact shootings, and recidivism rates among a program’s participants.

But García wants another layer of oversight. The March legislation stipulates that 70% of all funds Miami-Dade receives from the FTX deal must first go into a trust fund that the county commission controls.

More guardrails should be in place, he said, to ensure that the funds are properly appropriated.

“I ended up voting for the plan because there was some direction, but it’s still important that we make sure those dollars get audited for how they’re being spent by the administration and each individual commission district,” he said. “That’s the whole goal with this. The money shouldn’t just be out there for commissioners to do what they want with it. It should go toward fighting crime and poverty. That’s the intent, and I want to make sure it’s spent in that direction.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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