By Gary Nelson

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Miami-Dade County Commissioners have approved a plan that will allow the Miami Open tennis tournament to move from Key Biscayne, where it has been played for 30 years, to the Hard Rock Stadium beginning in 2019.  While commissioners gave the tournament promoters what they asked for Tuesday, a spat over previous bills owed the county could complicate things.

The move to the Hard Rock comes after heirs to the family who donated the Crandon Park property won a legal battle, blocking a huge expansion of the courts on the key.

“We went to court and we lost and the only way to keep the tournament in the community is to allow it to move to the Hard Rock stadium,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez told county commissioners.

Under the plan, Hard Rock owner Stephen Ross will receive $1 million a year in incentive money for having brought a “major event” to the stadium.

Among county commissioners there was general agreement that the Miami Open is an event the county cannot afford to lose.

“It’s better having it at Hard Rock Stadium than not having it all,” said Commissioner Joe Martinez.

The Miami open is the sixth biggest event on the tour, and brings hundreds of thousands of visitors who pour millions of dollars into the local economy.

“Keeping the tournament here is a must, and keeping local jobs is a must,” said Commissioner Rebeca Sosa.

The project at Hard Rock would involve a $53 million investment for 24 courts in surrounding lots and a center court in the stadium.

“I look forward to it. I think it’s going to be a win-win for this community,” said Commissioner Bruno Barreiro.

The vote was 11-2 to approve the plan.

In the end, the deal and the move appeared to be game, set and match. But a spokesperson for the tournament said not so fast.

“We are at grave risk of not staying in Miami,” said Wendy Elkins, vice president of IMG, the company that owns the tournament.

The promoters are sparring with the county over what they owe Miami-Dade for previous years’ services.

Mayor Gimenez wants the dispute settled through binding arbitration. IMG has rejected that notion.

Most, however, do not see the squabble over previous debts to be a deal breaker for the move to Hard Rock. It’s thought the county and company are perhaps $2 million apart on what’s owed.  Few believe IMG would walk away from the Hard Rock move and the marquis Miami destination for what, to the company, is chump change.

Elkins declined to speak to reporters after the meeting.

Mike Hernandez, a spokesman for the mayor, said Gimenez had effectively called IMG’s “bluff.”

What does the future hold for the tennis complex at Crandon Park? It will continue to be used to host tennis tournaments, high school and college competitions, amateur events, and will be open to the general public who want to play on quality courts.


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