To remedy what he considers a major morale buster for his hometown college football team, last December Ruiz announced his plan to build a swanky new stadium on the grounds of Coral Gables High School. That plan immediately met with widespread disapproval when it became evident that Ruiz had neither consulted the City of Coral Gables nor Miami-Dade County Public Schools (which owns the property that the high school sits on) before announcing his brilliant idea.
Undeterred, Ruiz looked elsewhere for prime stadium land, from the comfort of his private helicopter.
Now, four months after his foiled plot to build a stadium at Coral Gables Senior High, Ruiz told New Times in a recent interview aboard his private passenger plane that he has found a new spot for his field of dreams: Tropical Park, in the heart of Westchester.
“It’s gonna be at 4 Tropical Park — there’s about 270 acres there,” Ruiz tells New Times. “The design is over the top, it’s gorgeous, I’ve seen it already a couple of times.”
With the exception of his executive team, Ruiz has kept his stadium plans close to the vest. So far, he says, he has contracted HKS Architects — the firm behind SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, which hosted Super Bowl LVI in February — to design plans for a 65,000-seat stadium on the west side of Tropical Park. The entrepreneur has dreams of the stadium including space for graduate-level classrooms and water fixtures to make it the premier venue for Miami’s premier private university. He says the plans are due out next week.
It’s unclear how Ruiz’s new plan will go over, considering that Tropical Park is public land owned by Miami-Dade County and he has yet to speak to anyone at the county about his vision (and doing so isn’t high on his priorities).
“We’re gonna present the plans to the county, but the county is less important in my opinion because it has to go out to a vote to the constituents as a referendum,” Ruiz explains. “Obviously, we’re going to talk to the commissioners and the mayor, but ultimately it goes out to a vote to the general public.”
Diana Díaz, a former WSVN-TV reporter who’s now chief communications officer at MSP Recovery, explains to New Times that Ruiz and the team spearheading the stadium project intend to get the architectural plans in place before they engage with any county departments for permitting and approval.
Securing county approval might not be that easy in light of Ruiz’s history with athletic land ventures. In 2011, he leased a 90-acre baseball complex from the City of Homestead under his then-company La Ley Sports, but the city filed a lawsuit to evict him from the complex two years later after he failed to pay for property taxes, insurance, and utilities. Homestead eventually declared Ruiz in default on his lease and the stadium was shuttered. He told the Miami Herald he was caught up in personal vendettas and was not allowed to run things how he wanted to, so he decided to stop paying.
News of the new gambit comes at a pivotal time for the university’s football program, which is bringing aboard a new football coach, Mario Cristobal, to whom Ruiz is related through marriage. Ruiz has also signed several UM football players to million-dollar marketing deals through one of his companies, under new NCAA name, image, and likeness rules that allow college athletes to profit from their own brands. He recently told New Times he plans to take players out on his newly renovated private 767.
As this is the first time Ruiz has publicly stated his grand vision for Tropical Park, it’s unclear how the county and nearby residents will receive the news.
Jose Sanchez-Gronlier, an attorney in private practice and a civically active, long-time Westchester resident, says he doesn’t want one of the last remaining green spaces in Southwest Miami-Dade to be sacrificed for a stadium that will bring noise, traffic, and chaos to what persists as an idyllic Mayberry.
“We have very little parkland in Miami-Dade County as it is, so Tropical Park should remain a park,” Sanchez-Gronlier says. “Any extra buildings or stadiums built there will only take away from the green space and create traffic congestion in the area. UM should buy land somewhere and build their own stadium.”