For 14 years, a section of horse stalls at the Tropical Park Equestrian Center went unused, except as a storage space for landscaping tools, broken cabinets, dusty boxes stuffed with papers, and any other assorted detritus that could be crammed inside. The Center was the home of the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Mounted Patrol Unit until 2009, when it was disbanded in the midst of the U.S. financial crisis, which forced the Board of County Commissioners to reduce budgets. There were several attempts over the years to bring the unit back but each one fell short. By the time the Department finally got approval in 2022, the stalls had fallen into disrepair.
The Department did not have to look far to find a construction firm capable of pumping new life into the 20 stalls. It is the same firm that had first partnered with the Department more than 30 years ago, and has continued to contribute to the Department through monetary donations, fundraising events, sponsorships, and restoration projects.
“This was really a labor of love for our family, we love horses, we love our police, and we think that the marriage of horses and police and community policing, is perfect,” said Mrs. Ana VeigaMilton, president of the Jose Milton Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Milton Construction, one of South Florida’s largest developers of hotels, condominiums, apartment buildings and other commercial properties. The company was established in 1965 by the late Jose Milton, who along with blueprints and shovels, brought to work a philosophy of giving back to the community.
It took several weeks for two Mounted Patrol Unit officers to clear out the stalls, revealing crumbling and uneven floors, cracked woodwork, and rusted ironwork. After months of work, the stalls had undergone a dramatic transformation. Eight of the stalls were converted into utility rooms and a tack room for storage and maintenance of saddles, bridles, and other riding equipment. The unit’s on-site office was updated, to include air conditioning and a new floor. The roof and doors of the entire section were restructured, sanded, primed and repainted. The gravel floors were excavated and leveled for proper drainage. Misting systems were attached to the stalls to cool down the horses, and to dispense mosquito repellent when necessary.
“Ms. Maria Nardi, the Director of the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department, said during the Grand Reveal press conference on August 30, 2023, “This is just one great example, that with partnerships and donations like we are seeing here today, from the Milton family, we can see extraordinary improvements that will be long-lasting, and will contribute greatly to the common goals and mission and vision that we have to build an extraordinary community.”
Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during that event that the Milton family has a “special spot in their heart for law enforcement” and that the family was not content to just restore the site, but that it wanted to create a facility that would serve as a model for other equestrian centers across the country. “What we have here today, is not just restored stables, but a whole new standard for care for our horses and the mounted patrol,” Mayor Levine Cava said.
That kind of attention to detail typifies everything that the family has done for the Department over the past three decades. In the early 90’s the family sponsored fundraising golf tournaments for the Police Officer Assistance Trust (POAT). That organization raises money for the families of officers who have died in the line of duty, or have experienced debilitating injuries or sickness that prevents them from working. The family has also sponsored several 5K runs to raise money for POAT.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the family donated 5,000 specially designed masks to the department, along with a $25,000 check to POAT. On that same day, June 9, 2020, Ms. VeigaMilton learned of another way the family could help the Department. As she was leaving headquarters, she got a call from a longtime family friend, Miami-Dade Police Department Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Hernandez. Over the years, Mr. Hernandez had served as a middleman between the Department and the family, acting as a facilitator. Mrs. VeigaMilton returned to headquarters that day for a tour, and after seeing the worn-out condition of three breakrooms, she resolved to give them a makeover. The rooms were heavily used. Staff ate lunch there, personnel took breaks to recharge, and officers and victim advocates occasionally met with families. On September 13, 2021, the newly remodeled rooms were unveiled, with new granite cabinetry, appliances, and flat screen televisions. The family again presented a $25,000 check to POAT.
The family also sponsored a military appreciation luncheon in 2020, to recognize members of the Armed Forces, prior to Veterans Day on November 11. The Department has many officers who have served in the military or continue to serves as reserves. The luncheon has become an annual event. At during last year’s luncheon, Mr. Hernandez brought another project to the attention of the family. He told Mr. Cecil Milton of the Mounted Patrol Unit and how the stables needed a lot of work. Mr. Milton did not hesitate to pledge his support. “It was almost two decades of abandonment, overgrown weeds, things falling apart, the walls, the ceiling, everything needed to be completely redone,” Mr. Milton said. “We jumped right on it, we’re developers, so rehabbing stables was really easy for us, it’s been a pleasure.”
Originally published at https://www.miamidade.gov/global/news-item.page?Mduid_news=news1695364863081984