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Member of pioneering Miami family opposes park expansion pushed by tennis tournament

MathesonA ballot on the Nov. 6 Miami-Dade ballot asking voters whether the county should move forward with a Sony Open proposal to expand the Crandon Park Tennis Center and extend the tournament organizers' lease drew its first public opposition Sunday -- in a full-page color ad in The Miami Herald.

Bruce Matheson, whose pioneering family donated the land for Crandon Park, paid for the ad, which chides county commissioners for not being explicit with voters about what the ballot measure would do. "Could it be that you're 'flying under false colors' and trying to 'keep the public in the dark'?" the ad asks.

As an example, the ad notes that the tournament organizers' lease, which expires in nine years, would be extended to a total of 30 years, with two optional, 10-year extensions. The ad calls that "a 50-year sweetheart contract."

The tournament is also pushing for about $50 million in upgrades funded by organizers and Sony Open revenues. Matheson suggests the county would be on the hook for paying off bonds to finance the project if the tornament were to leave town or go out of business before its lease expires.

If approved, the ballot measure -- which requires support from two-thirds of voters -- would only be a first step in moving the proposal forward. A special, four-member committee must approve all future plans for the park. One of the committee's members is Matheson himself.

Proponents of the plan have financed a campaign touting a condition in the ballot measure that any park upgrades would be paid for by the tournament, tournament revenues and private dollars, and not from the county's general fund. They have characterized the upgrades as necessary to keep the popular tennis tournament in Key Biscayne, noting that rival tennis events elsewhere have spruced up their facilities. Photo (5)

The campaign pushing for the ballot measure has been financed by a political committee with high-profile members, including Miamian and retired tennis player Mary Joe Fernandez, who has taped a Spanish-language radio spot backing the plans. Chilean tennis player Fernando Gonzalez has also taped a similar spot.