— Days Without Shea —

New Yorkers may not appreciate the aethetic virtues of the Mets Home Run Apple.

But Floridians do.

At least when it comes to working the loopholes to find more public funding for their new baseball stadium.

The Miami Herald has a great little story about how city planners are using funds earmarked for public art to gussy up the future home of the Marlins:

Lost in the debate over the hundreds of millions in public subsidies for the Marlins' stadium is the $7.7 million in tax dollars set aside for public art.

About $2.5 million of that is earmarked for a ``home-run entertainment feature'' akin to Bernie the Brewer's slide (which used to be a beer slide, ending in vat of brew, until some complained), or the New York Mets' big apple rising from a top hat, or the Houston Astros' life-size locomotive that chuga-chugs across the rim of the stadium, or the granddaddy of them all -- the Chicago White Sox's fireworks-spewing, pinwheel-festooned ``exploding scoreboard.''

Miami-Dade's public call for proposals reads: ``The home run entertainment feature should conceptually celebrate the Miami Marlins, the ocean, light, movement and the spirit of baseball.''

Although a drop in the bucket in relation to the overall $515 million stadium cost, the unconventional use of arts money has raised some highbrow eyebrows and triggered a philosophical debate over the definition of art.

``Art should move your soul. It should be a thing of beauty and something that causes you to see things in a different light,'' says Becky Roper Matkov, a member of the Art in Public Places Trust, which oversees a $4.6 million budget for the county's program.

I can't say the new Apple moves my soul the way the old apple did. But I am glad they moved the old Apple to Citi Field. And it was classic this summer when the new Apple did not move at all after back to back home runs because it requires several minutes to re-boot after each rising.

Home-run celebrations often do become synonymous with their cities. So much so that when an old stadium is leveled and a new one built, the feature is often replicated.

That's what happened at newly opened Citi Field, where each New York Mets home run is celebrated by an apple rising from a top hat -- just the way it did at noisy, decrepit Shea Stadium.

We'll let that decrepit comment pass. Obviously the author does not recognize real art when he sees it.

If you are thinking there are better ways to spend $7.7 million in public money during a budgetary crisis, you might have a point.

But, by law, a penny and a half of every dollar spent on Miami-Dade government construction projects is carved out and put into a special kitty to pay for art in public places.

That money can't be spent on anything else. Though not a direct tax on the citizenry, it does pad the cost of public construction, so the effect is the same.

With that money, the county has commissioned some highly praised projects, including Rockne Krebs' The Miami Line, a 1,500-foot-long stretch of multicolored neon strung along the Metrorail bridge spanning the Miami River. It has become a signature feature of the skyline.

Other art pieces have gotten more mixed reviews. A sculpture of a dropped bowl and scattered orange slices outside downtown's Miami-Dade Government Center had to be roped off for a while to keep skateboarders at bay.

Claude Delorme, vice president of construction for the Marlins, says the new stadium -- ``not unlike any other project in Miami-Dade County'' -- deserves the same right as the Metrorail or County Hall to distinguish itself with public art.

But a few critics say not only is a home-run feature not ``art,'' but it is arguably not ``public'' either, since it will be cocooned inside a stadium capped by a retractable dome.

``They've been getting a heck of a gift from the county and the city,''says public arts trustee Graciela Solares, who sued Miami-Dade and the city of Miami in the springto stop public fundsfrom being used at the stadium.

Solares says she has no beef with baseball.

``I'd love to have the Marlins there,'' she says, ``and all the art in the world there -- as long as it's being paid by the Marlins and not by us.''

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