International racing is coming to South Florida for the first time, thanks to the help of law firm Bilzin Sumberg.
To bring the inaugural Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix to the Hard Rock Stadium complex, the law firm helped draft a county ordinance that incentivized venues to host major events and also helped Hard Rock Stadium’s ownership secure the zoning entitlements necessary to develop the race complex.
The project wasn’t without its hiccups, as original attempts to bring the race to downtown Miami failed, so attention then shifted to the Hard Rock Stadium complex.
Taking the lead was Bilzin Sumberg managing partner Al Dotson Jr., who leads the firm’s government affairs practice and who has previously represented Hard Rock Stadium, and partner Melissa Pallett-Vasquez in the litigation department.
Making the deal a reality was a tough but rewarding battle. Dotson said it was crucial to keep the community involved.
“At the end of the day we were able to bring our clients, the community and its elected leadership together to have a global event of this magnitude that attracts people from all over the world to attend, as well as eyeballs on the television from around the globe and a lot of attention that is drawn on the effort,” said Dotson.
Despite an increase in tourism and capital to Miami-Dade as a result of the race, the noise levels the race produces have many Miami Gardens residents concerned.
Dotson said there are misconceptions about what Formula 1 is and how it operates, and the backlash from the community was a challenge along the way.
“A lot of times it’s very difficult to prove a negative, but as we went through the process, our credibility continued to increase as we were able to show that one or more misconceptions about Formula 1 were refuted,” said Dotson. “When you have a client that’s willing to understand their concerns and to figure out how to tailor the economic impact and focus on the residents and community of Miami Gardens, it was a welcomed challenge and something that I, and we, and our client met.”
Dotson said one of the misconceptions was that Formula 1 would cause some spectators to suffer hearing damage, while another misconception was that race tracks were never normally in residential areas or near businesses.
Attorney Samuel Dubbin of Dubbin & Kravetz & Associates in Coral Gables represents residents who oppose having the race in the city, and said he thinks more can be done to protect the community.
“My clients, Black residents of Miami Gardens, are extremely disappointed that county and city elected officials have failed to protect their rights as residents and homeowners, and are allowing a massive assault on the people’s health and well being,” said Dubbin. “Everyone knows that this race would never happen in any other community in the county.”
Miami Gardens residents sued stadium ownership, arguing the noise from the race cars can cause hearing loss and that the level of noise is against the city’s noise ordinance.
However, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Alan Fine found nobody provided evidence of what the actual noise levels will be, and ordered that noise levels be monitored during the race.
“The court, at least, has opened the door to determining the actual noise levels the races will generate, and the effects the noise will have on residents’ health,” said Dubbin.
Despite the opposition, Pallett-Vasquez said she’s looking forward to seeing how the race will benefit the area over the next 10 years.
“I think we’re both just excited about the opportunities that this has afforded to Miami Gardens and the larger South Florida community,” said Pallett-Vasquez.” We hope that all of the community will enjoy it as much as we are looking forward to.”
The complex had already received $400 million in upgrades to prepare for Super Bowl LIV, but the stadium owners wanted to bring more international events to the site and committed over $40 million to build a custom racetrack at the complex with the prospect of a 10-year contract with Formula 1.
“From a legal perspective, the multi-disciplinary approach we were able to take with respect to our assistance to the incredible in-house team at the Miami Dolphins, I think we can be very proud of,” said Pallett-Vasquez. “This involved incredible efforts of our land use department led by Al Dotson, it also involved our corporate and real estate department, and, of course, our litigation department. Our ability to work cohesively to accomplish the legal side of things, I’m personally very proud of.”
For attorneys who aspire to work similarly large deals, Dotson suggested joining Bilzin Sumberg or another firm that is well connected.
“When you’re a law firm that is connected to the business leaders of our community, the political leadership of our community, and understand the residents of our community and some of the best lawyers, then you’re bringing a significant strength to a project of this nature,” said Dotson. “Your credibility and your experience will help put a deal together that can be a win, win, win.”
The Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix practice races start Friday afternoon.