County must get Marlins to pay their pittance for stadium
Written by Michael Lewis on July 7, 2015
It took less than three years from the time Miami-Dade County approved financing for a baseball stadium for the Miami Marlins to the day it opened in 2012. The Marlins have played 3½ seasons there. Yet it’s still a mystery how much the Marlins are going to pay in the deal.
The Marlins were never asked for a penny for steel or concrete, but they did agree to about $126 million in so-called soft costs out of their pocket. They have submitted itemized bills for costs for years, and for years county auditors have objected to some of those costs.
The bills flowed in until a cutoff last December. After negotiations that got rid of some costs, the county is still objecting to $4.2 million in Marlins claims of $110.9 million in spending, objections that are supposed to go at some time to arbitration. Yet here in mid-July 2015 no arbitration has yet been set over costs auditors objected to at least three years ago.
The $4.2 million is not much out of a ballpark cost to taxpayers of almost $3 billion when you throw in not just the construction but roadways to the stadium, public land and, most importantly, balloon interest payments of about $2 billion alone.
Moreover, even if the county wins every penny of its claims against the Marlins, the money will never go to the beleaguered taxpayers or even to the county’s general fund. Whatever the Marlins have to pay of that $4.2 million just finances future capital spending at the ballpark – money that will primarily benefit the Marlins. So either way, they win. They either keep the money or they spend it on themselves.
Still, it would be fitting that the county object to something, anything, in a giveaway of mammoth proportions in which the Marlins keep every penny of revenue from everything from ticket sales to advertising, sponsorships, luxury boxes and concessions at the ballpark and get to rent out the site to others and keep the revenues too even though the public owns the stadium. The only payback the public gets is part of the parking fees – and even that goes to the City of Miami, not the county.
What made it worse, Marlins executives afterwards laughed in the public’s face, talking about bamboozling our elected officials in the worst of all deals.
The county’s auditors did win some battles with the Marlins over claimed stadium expenses without going to arbitration. The county had the Marlins remove $11,000 the team claimed for cases of alcoholic beverage as a stadium construction expense – absolutely true. They also removed a pack of chewing gum claimed as a cost in an executive’s flight as a construction cost. In all, they got $812,000 of such ludicrous expense claims removed.
The auditors also objected to claiming as stadium construction expenses janitorial service in a team sales office elsewhere, Marlins’ office staff payroll, cable TV and internet service elsewhere, lawyers’ fees to fight a stadium opponent, printing ticket sale promotional brochures, cost of bank deposit slips, flight upgrades seven times for team consultants, paying above county meal limits, high-cost hotel rooms and far more.
No, we’re not making any of that up – someone else did, and they tried to get it past the county auditors too.
And that kind of sleight of hand worthy of a cheap sideshow is why the county needs to go through the required arbitration right now.
The county lawyers tell us they plan to set the date within a month.
We just hope the county finally wins before rather than after the current owners sell the team. We’d like to see the owners have to pay the public something – almost anything – in actual cash before they leave.