weighing trade plan for Marlins
By Paola Iuspa
As the Florida Marlins continue to search for a site for a stadium, the price of Miami's Bicentennial Park their first choice may be rising.
Members of the City of Miami's Parks Advisory Board decided this month to explore an alternative that would demand developers trying to buy parkland trade the city another piece of land of equal value.
The measure, which would have to be approved by the city commission, could bring one more factor to the negotiation table, in which the Marlin are trying to get a portion of the waterfront park to build a ballpark to be financed mostly by the public.
The board is holding workshops for the public to participate.
Robert Flanders, who sits on the 19-member board, said the trade would have to be fair.
"Equal value given for equal value," he said. "Who could set a value for the waterfront park?"
The land-trade approach was discussed after Lucinda Treat, vice president and corporate consultant for the Florida Marlins, gave an overview of the proposal to build a $400 million stadium on 15 acres of the 30-acre Bicentennial Park, which sits between Biscayne Boulevard and the bay, adjacent to the American Airlines Arena.
Ms. Treat told the board Marlins owner John Henry would give up to $80 million to help pay for the stadium. But she said it wasn't clear how the rest would be financed.
Some civic leaders fear the cost of the ballpark is underestimated.
"The ballpark will cost more than $400 million when you start adding the cost of cleaning the land and so on," Mr. Flanders said. "I know it takes money to make money and that improvements in Miami are overdue. But the city's $555 million budget only gives about $9.3 million for infrastructure improvements.
"If we have to pay $320 million for the ballpark in a period of 30 years, we would need to come up with almost $11 million a year plus interest, which could double the cost."
The groundwater and soil in Some areas of the park are contaminated with petroleum and need to be cleaned up before construction can start. From 1920-68, the space was home to the Belcher Oil Bulk Storage Facility, according to state records.
Currently, the park is on a waiting list for a federal program to clean up the land, but if someone buys the land before it is cleaned, the new owner may have to pay for the cleaning.
Ms. Treat said sharing the cost with the community made sense because the city is going to benefit from it.
"It will be more than a ballpark," Ms. Treat said. "It would be something that will be good for the community and a catalyst for redevelopment of the area."
The ballpark, with a retractable roof, would have 40,000 seats and 1,500 parking spaces, she said.
"Any extra parking space would have to come from the surrounding existing facilities," Ms. Treat said. "There are 16,000 parking spaces within a 10-minute walk."
The ballpark, she said, may need 12,000 to 13,000 parking spaces to handle fans for 81 home games played each year.
Although the Marlins have looked at other locations, Ms. Treat said, a study commissioned by the Downtown Development Authority two months ago advised that Bicentennial was the only downtown location suitable for a 15-acre ballpark.
The authority, assigned to redevelop downtown, oversaw the study for the city commission.
Members of the Miami River Commission, a group in favor of maintaining open spaces, if offering alternative sites for the ballpark. David Miller, commission president, said they had been offering without success a location on 13 acres along the Miami River, west of the Metrorail line.
Lot owners have already agreed to sell the land, he said.
"The Marlins had looked at it very carefully," Mr. Miller said. "But even if they build the stadium, it will be too tight and cost more to build on that site. For them, it is not a possibility right now."
Mr. Flanders said even if the Marlins were able to come up with another park in exchange for Bicentennial, it may not offset the damage a sale of the waterfront land may cause.
"Open spaces allow us to have the density that we envision for downtown Miami," Mr. Flanders said. "Parks act as release pressure valves; that's why we need public input."
He said a ballpark would also block the view to the bay and eliminate the vision of a downtown whereas cafes and restaurants around the waterfront park would attract people.
But Ms. Treat said the proposed ballpark would include open spaces, enhance the bay access and create a baywalk, which would extend from Margaret Pace Park past the Miami Herald Building all the way to the planned ballpark and Bayside Marketplace.
"People could walk or rollerblade by the bay," she said.
Gregory Bush, a member of the Parks Advisory Board, said many cities throughout America are developing waterfronts, a move applauded by their communities.
"Miami needs a waterfront park with water fountains, walkways, benches, bathrooms and green areas for people to go and sit on the grass and enjoy the bay," he said. "People like to sit on the grass."
Mr. Bush, also a member of the Bicentennial Park Waterfront Renewal Committee, which is in charge of drafting a new master plan due by March 31 for the park, said his group soon will start creating new ways to raise money and help the city apply for federal grants available for park improvements.
"Commissioner Johnny Winton is very supportive," he said. "But with only 2% of the $555 million city budget allocated for parks, there is not much we can do."
Ms. Treat said the ballpark's economic impact would boost city revenues. During a three-year construction period, she said, the ballpark could generate $930 million in business revenues and $260 million in income for local households, as 8,400 employees would be hired.
"Once it is built, it would generate $351 million in business revenues," she said. "About 2,200 people would be employed creating an additional $130 million in household income."