A One-On-One Interview with Mr. Super Bowl Rodney Barreto
Rodney Barreto started off patrolling the streets of Coconut Grove 30 years ago. Today he’s one of the Sunshine State’s most influential forces.
Rodney Barreto has led Miami to the Super Bowl end zone three times—“my own record,” he says. Barreto’s post as chairman of the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee positions him as the city’s ultimate cheerleader, securing and overseeing an event expected to bring in $500 million in tourism dollars and leave what he hopes is a lasting, positive impact on the city. A key figure in making the Magic City more magical over the last 30 years through development, business consulting and civic leadership, the Miami native has also dedicated his professional life to helping protect Florida’s delicate ecosystems, as chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for seven years (and a member of the commission for 10).
Barreto grew up one of 11 children, with a love of exploring and fishing in the Everglades, and with a drive to forge his own path. He began his career in 1985 as a 19-year-old police officer in Coconut Grove, a job he poured his heart into for six years before a neighborhood shoot-out changed his course. He left the force to work with one of Miami’s most notable developers and things took off. Today, Barreto’s portfolio of development projects includes, most recently, The Wharf, a waterfront dining and entertainment concept in Fort Lauderdale.
Super Bowl 54 kicks off Sunday, Feb. 2, at Hard Rock Stadium and marks Miami’s record-breaking 11th time hosting the event and the 100th anniversary of the NFL. Off the field, the Super Bowl Host Committee is running four campaigns, focused on raising awareness about Florida’s environment, stopping sex trafficking and spurring community development and small business growth, all with the goal of permanently improving the region long after the final whistle blows. Ahead of the big game, Flamingo editor in chief Jamie Rich sat down with Barreto at his office in Coral Gables to learn more. The following are highlights from their conversation.
WAS WORKING AS A POLICE OFFICER YOUR FIRST JOB?
RB: My parents couldn’t pay for 11 kids going to college, but they encouraged us to go to college. We all went to Miami Dade [College]. I took the police exam, and I was a policeman at 19 years old, which is kind of scary. It helped me grow up quick.
WHAT PROPELLED YOU TO GET OUT OF LAW ENFORCEMENT?
RB: Do you know Monty’s restaurant here in Coconut Grove? Back in the 1980s, it was the spot to be. And I was his off-duty policeman five or six nights a week. [One night] I was working plainclothes in the Grove on my regular job as a policeman and my partner and I were in an unmarked car. We pulled up to this corner. There were six kids on the corner. I went to say something to my partner, and the guy pulled a gun out and tried to shoot me in the head and the bullet went through the window. I jumped out of the car, shot at all six of them and missed them. There was this big article in the paper, and I walked into Monty’s restaurant the next day. And Monty said, “Hey, you know what? My friend shouldn’t get shot at. Why don’t you come work for me?” I was 25 years old. I went to the police chief, Clarence Dickson, and I said, “Hey, Clarence. Can I take this?” And he said, “Go for it. The door will be open, if it doesn’t work out.” I left and then I never looked back.
WHAT WAS THE OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU TO WORK WITH MONTY?
RB: He had nine restaurants and clubs at the time. They kind of hired me as director of security, but I quickly became the right-hand guy. He’s the one that exposed me to all this civic involvement because he was Mr. Tourism. There was no tourism bureau here. There was a guy named Monty Trainer on this side of the bay, and there was a guy named Steve Muss on the Miami Beach side. And when those two titans got together, things happened.
Then I ran a thing called the Greater Miami Host Committee. About 27 years ago I started our version of Times Square, with a big orange that comes down off of the InterContinental. Miami back then had an Orange Bowl parade every New Year’s Eve. And all these people go downtown, they have the parade and then about 9:00 at night there’s nothing. I saw this as an opportunity. I said, “You know what? We got to have a concert, fireworks and a big orange.”
It’s funny. About five years ago, I get a call from Pitbull, Mr. 305. I told him I wanted to rival New York. You look at TV in New York and everybody’s freezing out there. Miami, everybody’s just enjoying the balmy weather. It still exists today. The orange I built is still there.
THE BIG ORANGE PREPARED YOU TO TAKE ON THE SUPER BOWL HOST COMMITTEE?
RB: My history with the Super Bowl committee was Dick Anderson. He was a part of the undefeated team, All-Pro safety for the Miami Dolphins. He called me up and said, “Hey, Rodney. I need your help. I’m going to be the chairman of a host committee.” This was the first host committee ever for a Super Bowl. Remember, Super Bowls have really evolved. You couldn’t give away a ticket to the Super Bowl. So I said, “What do you need me to do?” He goes, “Why don’t you be the chairman of our government affairs committee, and work on state, county, and all these different governments, and get money, get services.” So I did it. That was 30 years ago. Then I chaired it in 2007 and in 2010 and now in 2020.
HOW HAVE THINGS CHANGED IN MIAMI SINCE THOSE DAYS?
RB: I tell people when they come here now, there’s so many things that are new in a 10-year period, it’ll blow you away. The Frost Museum of Science is brand-new. The Pérez Art Museum’s brand-new. The tunnel to the port is brand-new. The Brightline train’s brand-new. All the people living in downtown, brand-new.
There’s so many great things going on this side of the bay. You have all these emerging neighborhoods. There’s Brickell, Wynwood, the Design District, Doral, even. They all have hotels. They all have nightlife. They all have great restaurants.
WHAT’S NEW THAT FANS CAN EXPECT FOR SUPER BOWL 54?
RB: Well, you’re going to experience a brand-new stadium with all kinds of neat restaurants. I don’t think you can buy a hamburger and hot dog in that stadium. It’s all gourmet, it’s all these new beers and they really did a phenomenal job.
In downtown Miami we’re doing Super Bowl LIVE, which will be a weeklong celebration, free to the public. We’ll have free fireworks, free concerts. We’ll have an environmental village. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be there. Ocean Conservancy will be there, the Everglades Foundation and all these different partners with NFL sponsors.
A lot of people could not afford to go to the game. This is a great opportunity for the community at large to come and experience the Super Bowl [atmosphere]. 65,000 people go to the game. There’ll be well over a couple hundred thousand people here for the parties and all the entertainment that goes on around the sport.
WHAT DO YOU THINK SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES ARE GOING TO BE FOR THE SUPER BOWL?
RB: There’s just a lot of logistics. This is what qualifies as a SEAR 1 event. What that means is all the federal resources come to Miami, homeland security, customs, US attorneys. A lot of things we won’t see because they’re worried about a game of this magnitude being the site of a potential strike from some terrorist group. We need 10,000 volunteers, but every one of those volunteers will have a background check done by Homeland Security. We didn’t do that 10 years ago.
The other thing we didn’t do 10 years ago is talk about human trafficking, sex trafficking. We are working with the state attorney’s office. We’re working with The Women’s Fund, and we have a big campaign about how to recognize human trafficking, training people in hotels and staff. We’ve partnered with more than 300 organizations.
TELL US ABOUT THE HOST COMMITTEE’S CAMPAIGN TO RAISE AWARENESS FOR SEX TRAFFICKING.
RB: We’re doing a huge initiative that is bringing together over 300 organizations to work together to create a platform to deal with sex trafficking. An interesting statistic is that the majority of these women are not brought into your area. They’re here.
About 65% of them are people here, from broken homes or drugs. It’s not like someone’s bringing a whole bunch of girls into town. It’s an issue that has to be dealt with. And our state attorney, she’s ahead of a lot of people in Florida, because she has a brick-and-mortar intake facility. So if a girl calls, they’re able to evaluate her and place her properly somewhere. So it’s not like you’re calling the 1-800 number and no one picks up. They’re actually picking it up and dealing with it.
HOW WILL THE SEX TRAFFICKING CAMPAIGN GO INTO ACTION? WITH BILLBOARDS IN THE AIRPORT SIMILAR TO ATLANTA DURING THE SUPER BOWL LAST YEAR?
RB: It’s funny you said that because I took pictures of that and I gave that to everybody. I said, contact Atlanta. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I thought it was impactful. Everywhere I turned there was either a poster or an announcement kept coming on the PA. Human trafficking was a big thing [at the Atlanta Super Bowl].
We already have ads going on. There will be billboards and signs. And so I went to Kathy [Rundle] first, our long-time state attorney, and said, “Hey, the NFL gave us a check for $100,000. Tell us who you want us to give it to.” The Women’s Fund Miami-Dade is an umbrella organization that deals with all of this, so we’re working with them.
HOW IS THE SUPER BOWL COMMITTEE HELPING SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT?
RB: We’re calling it the Ocean to Everglades initiative. If you look at the stadium, it sits in between the ocean and the Everglades. People are tired of all this plastic. Ocean Conservancy came to us and became a sponsor of the host committee because they saw the platform and their whole thing is about plastics in the water. No straws, no plastic bags, and man we’ve been getting the word out. We’ve already done four beach cleanups. We’re trying to collect 54 tons of plastic for the 54th game. The governor and first lady came out to kick it off.
I often tell people the sad thing about the fight against plastics is no one can see below the waterline, unless you dive or unless somebody goes down there and videotapes something. We just think everything’s nice. The water is pretty.
HOW CAN THE SUPER BOWL REDUCE SINGLE-USE PLASTICS?
RB: Hard Rock Stadium is committed to phase out 99.4% of single-use plastics by 2020, including for the Super Bowl. Even when we did the cleanups, you could see all the plastic bags. It’s amazing.
WHAT IS THE CAMPAIGN FOR THE EVERGLADES?
RB: We’re also going to do a python challenge and a lionfish [challenge], all part of the Super Bowl. We’re going to have prizes and all that. We’re going to be hunting for them. The pythons that have been thrown into the Everglades. They’re eating alligators, upsetting the food chain, eating everything. When I met with the governor I told him, “It’s great you’re spending a billion dollars to fix the Everglades. But once we fix it there’s no indigenous wildlife there.” And he agreed. So he’s now really put a lot of emphasis on eradicating the python, which is the right thing to do.
IS THE PYTHON OR THE LIONFISH MORE OF A THREAT?
RB: I think they both are equal threats. Pythons get a little more attention because not everybody’s a diver, not everybody knows what a lionfish is.
THERE ONE ISSUE THAT IS PERSONAL TO YOU?
RB: I think the thing that resonates most with me is that I grew up on hunting in the Everglades and boating out here. They say you want to leave the place better than when you found it.
WHAT CAN PEOPLE DO TO HELP COMBAT THESE ISSUES?
RB: There’s going to be programs, whether it’s turtles or nesting birds. There’s a lot of programs you can get involved in, and I think that’s important. I think a lot of people say, “It’s not my issue. I don’t want to get involved.”
WHY DO YOU THINK MORE PEOPLE DON’T GET INVOLVED?
RB: A lot of people, they’re working 9-to-5 just to put food on the table. They’ve got to get home, get the kids, make sure they did their homework and cook their food. They’re living paycheck-to-paycheck. Not everybody has the luxury of having time to do a lot of extra things. Social media allows people to participate from their homes or on their phones.
HAS THE STATE DIGRESSED SINCE YOUR CHILDHOOD?
RB: We have about 22 million people in this state, a lot of development, a lot of pressure on the environment, a lot of pressure on the waterfront, so yeah, things have changed a lot.
DO YOU THINK THAT THE CITY’S GROWING TOO FAST?
RB: I don’t think people are going to stop moving to Florida. That’s the problem. We’re a great state, great weather, the taxes are right, we’re a business climate. So it’s just keeping up with that and continuing to evolve and modernize.
WAS THE HOST COMMITTEE INVOLVED WITH THE HALFTIME ENTERTAINMENT SELECTION?
RB: No. A lot of people think we are, but we’re not. Early on, I did advocate for Jennifer Lopez. Also Pitbull. I thought it really should be a South Florida theme. Across the board, Hispanic, African-American, Latino, the whole deal because I think there’s so much flavor here. We have our own rhythm. I’m just hoping they bring Pitbull as a surprise.
WHO DO YOU PREDICT WILL BE PLAYING?
RB: I would love to see someone like Kansas City or New Orleans because I’d like someone here that hasn’t been here in a while. There would be a lot of enthusiasm from their fan base.
SO NOT THE PATRIOTS?
RB: No. They had their chance. How many times can you do it? It’s time for a little change. I just want some great weather.
WHERE WILL YOU BE ON GAME DAY AND WHO WILL YOU CHEER FOR?
RB: I’ll be in the stadium. Cheering for the region to make sure that everything goes off without a hitch. So we’ll keep our fingers crossed.
Barreto’s Favorite Sporting Pastimes
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Favorite football coach:
RB: Don Shula. I did the first fishing tournament with him way back in the ’90s.
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Top NFL player:
RB: Dan Marino. He’s a friend. I think he was a class player on the field and off the field. I like his energy. He was always firing people up.
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Go-to outdoor activity:
RB: Where do I begin? Hunting, fishing, biking, hiking. All of it. I’m just an overall outdoors man and a champion for it too. My best thoughts are [when I’m] quietly sitting in the woods. I love early, early morning to get there earlier, dark, and then all of a sudden, the birds start chirping and it’s amazing to listen to the woods come alive.
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What do you like to fish for most?
RB: I’m on the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. I fish for them all. I was just swordfishing four weeks ago off of Marathon. It’s a lot of fun.
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How much of your time do you spend on the water?
RB: My boat is looking at me wondering if I forgot about [her] because I’m doing this golf thing right now. I just bought a 44’ Contender open fisherman. I like Contender boats because I know the owner, Joe Neber. They’re built right in Homestead.