Mayor needs to bar more giveaways to Marlins owners
Written by Michael Lewis on May 7, 2014
The Miami Marlins are in their third season in a stadium that cost the public $3 billion. And the county is in its third year of challenging what Marlins owners said they paid to help build the ballpark.
Meanwhile, the Marlins keep finding more and more bills to add to their construction cost. The county says the Marlins won’t be done claiming more until the end of this year.
The Marlins’ current claim of spending $110.5 million to help build the park is important, because every dollar they claim that the county doesn’t successfully challenge is directly subtracted from the team’s $160.2 million slice of construction costs.
You’d think the Marlins were paying for concrete and steel, but they aren’t. They’re not paying a cent for the real construction work – and they’re not supposed to.
Under the noxious contract the county signed with team owners, rent for 30 years totaling $115 million is to be counted as part of the team’s share of construction cost.
The team also gets to count its fees for lawyers, consultants, architects, engineers and other so-called soft construction costs. If those costs run over $45 million, that just reduces the rent the Marlins will pay. Those costs now are listed at $110.5 million, so most of the rent will never be paid.
If the Marlins successfully push claims higher, everything over $125 million means that not only will the Marlins will never pay any rent at all, but that the county will never get back all of the $35 million it gave to the Marlins interest free as a loan to help cover the team’s soft construction costs. That money would then wind up as not a loan but a taxpayer gift to Marlins owners. How thoughtful of us.
The county will be lucky to ever see any actual cash at all from the Marlins.
Taxpayers are stuck with that contract. Blame former mayor Carlos Alvarez and former county manager George Burgess. They engineered it and bamboozled commissioners into approving it.
But Carlos Gimenez, who now is both mayor and manager, is responsible for holding the Marlins to even the meager payments that this abominable deal requires.
Those terms do not allow the Marlins to include just any old thing as a soft cost of stadium construction. Indeed, the county has successfully challenged $812,000 the Marlins tried to slip into their share – $812,000 that they wouldn’t have ever had to pay.
But as of last month the county was disputing an additional $4.426 million in Marlins claims, and team owners refuse to take the claims off the table.
In such disputes the contract specifies arbitration, and for more than two years the county has threatened that if the Marlins don’t yield, then arbitration it must be.
Meanwhile, for more than two years the Marlins have been adding more cost claims, and the county has challenged more as well.
The county actually did get the Marlins to remove $11,000 worth of alcohol that they called a soft construction cost – very soft.
The Marlins also removed chewing gum that a team consultant claimed as a cost of flying. Talk about nickel and diming government.
A pile of other claims also would be laughable, except that every penny the team gets away with comes directly out of taxpayers’ pockets.
The Marlins claimed as a construction cost their legal expenses in battling Norman Braman’s attempts to stop a ballpark deal in the first place.
They charged $47 for bank deposit slips.
They claimed $127,330.80 for expenses that Major League Baseball should have been responsible for.
They claimed flight upgrades seven times for team consultants, paying above county limits for meal costs 12 times as costs of building a ballpark, paying above county-set limits 25 times for hotel rooms, and $78,083.67 for their own office payroll.
They threw in a $650,000 consultant’s bill for putting art and photos in the stadium. They claimed more than $2,000 in cable TV and Internet bills, as well as janitorial bills for cleaning a team sales office that was nowhere near the ballpark.
And all of that was just in the first wave of bills that keep flowing in.
Mayor Gimenez to his credit opposed this contract, which does make it perfectly OK for the Marlins to charge their own lawyers’ fees for making the deal to taxpayers as construction costs.
It’s past time for the mayor to now get the arbitration process going, even while the Marlins dream up more costs they can claim for construction of a building that will soon be three years old.
Granted, the disputed $4.4 million is a drop in the bucket of the $3 billion taxpayers are on the hook for. But as the mayor and his team negotiate three more sports stadium deals for football, basketball and soccer, it would behoove Mr. Gimenez to prove right now that he is not about to toss away merely through inattention an extra $4.4 million to any team after a contract is final.
Why wait until December to preserve some money for taxpayers?
After all, if team owners don’t even have to live up to giveaway contracts, why in heaven’s name ever consider another sports deal?