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Politically connected lawyer assembles team to pitch UM football stadium in Coral Gables

·4 min read

Hours after rumors swirled on college sports blogs Sunday that politically connected Miami lawyer John Ruiz was scheming to build a football stadium for the University of Miami near its Coral Gables campus, the billionaire UM booster took to Twitter — riling up excited Hurricanes fans and skeptical Gables residents alike.

“We have the best fans! No stone unturned... Ruiz Family has named a Miami Orange Bowl Stadium Committee. It will be released in a few hours,” he tweeted Sunday night. “Fans, this is going to happen!!! I am currently working around the clock. WE WILL HAVE A STATE OF THE ART STADIUM!”

Ruiz, founder of Medicare litigation firm MSP Recovery, confirmed to the Miami Herald in an interview that he’s interested in building a stadium at Coral Gables Senior High School. He added that he plans to soon announce an eight-member committee to steer the project.

The committee Ruiz formed for the stadium idea will be made up of himself, firm executive, Coral Gables High graduate and former WSVN-7 News broadcaster Diana Diaz, University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute Director Lee Kaplan, MSP Recovery attorney Gino Moreno, Mocca Realty broker Alex Pirez and Ruiz’s three children Johnny, Alex and Cristina Ruiz — all of whom are UM alums.

“The University of Miami obviously is migrating towards making the school sports and overall campus much better. Not just sports but education, and that all requires to improve where the games are played,” he said.

Ruiz noted that he has not spoken to the university about plans for a stadium or potential locations.

The University of Miami did not return requests for comment regarding Ruiz’s statements.

The Orange Bowl was the home stadium for Miami’s football team from 1937 until it closed in 2008. The Hurricanes now host their home games at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, where the Miami Dolphins play.

Ruiz’s announcement came as UM got closer to hiring a new athletic director while pursuing Oregon football coach Mario Cristobal. Miami donors — including Ruiz himself — were reported to have the resources to compete with Oregon booster and Nike founder Phil Knight for the former Hurricanes offensive lineman and assistant.

Ruiz is related to Cristobal by marriage, a spokeswoman confirmed.

Ruiz’s firm has employed Coral Gables Vice Mayor Michael Mena since July 2019, and has other ties to the city as well. Earlier this year, he and a business partner purchased a $3.5 million city parking lot at 350 Greco Ave.

Mena said Sunday night that had never spoken to Ruiz about his plan.

“As far as I know, I am not aware of UM having expressed any interest in a new football stadium,” he said. “It seems like more of a Twitter thing.”

Some Gables residents and Coral Gables High School alumni took to Twitter to express their feelings on how a college football stadium would jam up traffic in the city southwest of downtown Miami, displace the high school and change the aesthetic of the quiet suburb. They also expressed concern over the seriousness of Ruiz’s comment.

“There are just a lot of questions about his legitimacy,” said Alain Pérez, 20, a 2019 Coral Gables High alum and former class vice president. “I don’t think billionaires are in touch with people who go to public school. Most people agree with me that this absurd.”

Don Slesnick, who served as Coral Gables mayor from 2001 to 2011, said the city was approached multiple times about a stadium during his tenure. He admits he “alienated some of the University of Miami people” when the ideas never made it far in the city.

“I know nothing about John Ruiz’s intentions but the idea of a stadium for University of Miami in the Gables is not a new one,” he said. I guess the guy with the money wants to see a stadium. The bottom line is this proposal will go nowhere.”

Ruiz said the high school would stay on the property and be rebuilt into a “state-of-the-art high school.”

Others — more than 9,000 as of Sunday night — signed a Change.org petition to bring a stadium to UM’s campus.

“An on campus stadium is ideal but won’t be easy,” the author of the petition wrote. “Our students need this, our alumni need this and the community needs this! It could be the focal point of many great memories for decades to come!!”

A potential Coral Gables stadium project wouldn’t be Ruiz’s first try at entering the sports space in Miami-Dade County. In 2012, his company La Ley Sports had plans to turn an aging baseball stadium in Homestead into “a first class youth and athletic sports venue” when he signed the lease-to-own contract. But La Ley was unable to find insurance coverage for the property and fell behind on utility payments, rent and tied the city up in lawsuits for several years.

Ruiz noted the issues at La Ley were the fault of the “politicians fighting themselves.”

“What we did was a huge success,” he said.

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