Mayor urges local group to bring Marlins stadium plan to fruition
By Paola Iuspa
With new marching orders from Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, a local group created by Gov. Jeb Bush now shoulders the task of brokering state and City of Miami agreements that would give the Florida Marlins to be renamed the Miami Marlins if all goes as planned a ballpark downtown.
If no agreement is reached by Feb. 15, a letter of intent signed by Mr. Penelas and John Henry, Marlins owner, will expire. The nine-member Community Improvement Authority is being asked to nail down a location by then for the $385 million stadium.
The first choice, 15 city-owned acres in 30-acre Bicentennial Park east of Biscayne Boulevard, depends on city willingness to give the land and $2 million a year in parking revenues.
Two privately owned sites under discussion would have to be bought.
"The agreement we put on the table is a way to move forward," Mr. Penelas told the authority Tuesday. "You may enhance this proposal. We are open to new ideas. But you could also ask, 'what can we do to get the city and state to approve it? You can put all the pieces together and prevent this letter of intent from becoming invalid."
"Baseball is important to South Florida, but the evil is in the details," City Manager Carlos Gimenez said Tuesday. "The city was asked to come back with a substantial amount of money and to donate land. Some commissioners have some reservation about the land. Commissioner Johnny Winton has a group making new plans for the park. The city has invested $200,000 on a committee to re-do Bicentennial Park."
Sen. Ron Silver said without community backing on a site, the legislature would not approve any measure to help finance the project.
Commissioner Tom s Regalado said if the city decides to donate the land, a commission's vote would be enough saving the time needed to put any issue on a ballot.
"It doesn't have to go to the voters in a referendum," he said. "It would be a decision by the city's legislative body."
To have the stadium for the 2004 season opener, Mr. Henry said, "we would have to build at the same time as the plans are being drawn."
Authority members agreed only to study the plan.
"Before we support the proposal with certain conditions, we need to get some more expertise," said Richard Fain, authority chairman.
Meanwhile, Miami-Dade commissioners Tuesday agreed only that excess convention development tax funds will not be encumbered for 60 days while the baseball proposal is being considered.
The deal calls for a 40,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof and parking for 1,500 cars. The Marlins would manage and operate the park for at least 40 years.
Funding is to come in part from county bonds Miami-Dade would own the stadium and use $72 million in Marlins' rent to repay bonds.
The team will add 4% to ticket prices to raise another $47 million.
The pact also calls for the state to contribute $122 million sales in sales tax rebates. The remaining $118 million would come from the county's convention development taxes.
Arriving at the commission meeting Tuesday when commissioners were asking about the amount available through the tax, Mayor Penelas asked that commissioners "make a substantial commitment to the possibility of bringing baseball to Miami."