Aug 15, 2022 - News

City of Miami closes Virginia Key Outdoor Center over code violations

Bikes outside Virginia Key Outdoor Center.
Virginia Key Outdoor Center. Photo courtesy of Esther Alonso

The city of Miami shut down Virginia Key Outdoor Center on Friday for several code violations and more than $140,000 in past-due rent.

  • The recreation center's director of operations and marketing, Diana Perez-Pazos, told Axios that police threatened to arrest her if she refused to sign an arrest affidavit for the code violations.
  • The center, which is on city-owned property, shared surveillance video of the police investigation with WPLG Local 10.

What they're saying: Both Perez-Pazos and the center's owner, Esther Alonso, denied the accusations. Perez-Pazos told Axios she believes the closure may be retaliation to the center's opposition to a city proposal to build a homeless encampment on Virginia Key, an allegation Alonso also made to Islander News.

  • "Something is going on. It's not OK for them to use law enforcement as a tool of intimidation," Perez-Pazos said.

Perez-Pazos said she signed the affidavit — and provided a fingerprint — to avoid arrest. She said she expects to receive a notice to appear in court and eventually the termination of the center's lease with the city.

  • "When you have seven cops in a room it just seemed unnecessary," she said. "It's a lot."

Alonso said in a statement on Instagram she fears the move is a pretext for real estate development of the island park.

  • "If Virginia Key falls, every other park in the city of Miami will be subject to development," Alonso said.

Between the lines: The city of Miami has faced pushback over decisions to allow private developments on public land in the past, such as the Inter Miami soccer stadium slated for Melreese golf course.

  • Alonso blamed City Commissioner Joe Carollo, who spearheaded the homeless proposal and was recently accused of abusing power for his political gain by the owner of Ball & Chain restaurant and by the city’s former police chief.
  • Carollo told WPLG he was unaware of the eviction and said Alonso “needs to take a cold shower.”

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