Miami weighs Marlins park proposal before trust reports
By Paola Iuspa
Miami's City Commission today (1/11) will discuss a county-sponsored proposal to build a baseball stadium downtown.
The proposal calls for the city to give a site approved by the Florida Marlins and the team has said it prefers Bicentennial Park.
The agreement also calls for the city to contribute about $2 million a year from a parking surcharge, which was approved in 1999 to reduce tax burdens on residents and business owners while helping stabilize the city's finances.
Under this proposal, the $385 million stadium would be financed mostly by taxpayers with Marlins owner John Henry contributing rent to build the retractable-dome complex. A 4% surcharge to game tickets, $122 million from a sales tax rebate and $118 million in county convention development tax revenues would help foot the bill.
The county would own the baseball complex. In all, Major League Baseball's Marlins would pay $6 million annually in rent for a total of $240 million, money that would offset project bond debts and project costs.
An agreement backing this proposal and signed by Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas and Mr. Henry will expire Feb. 15 if the county, city or state do not agree with any of the terms.
So far, City Commissioner Johnny Winton opposes the idea of having a stadium in Bicentennial Park and giving up the land for free. Mr. Winton said he was confident other commissioners share his feelings.
Commissioner Winton, who endorses a stadium site north of the Miami River, planned to meet privately with Mr. Henry on Wednesday (1/10) to talk about the 13-acre riverfront property, which is privately owned.
Commissioner Tomas Regalado said Monday he would demand an annual payment if the stadium were built on city property.
"I oppose selling any land," he said.
Mr. Regalado had also told members of a state-created authority reviewing the proposed deal to come up with recommendations that "if you can come up with a better plan, we will appreciate it."
The commission will be discussing the issue as the nine-member Community Improvement Authority is still evaluating the county's proposal and trying to come up with recommendations for a Marlins stadium.
Finding a site for the stadium seemed to be the most important issue last week at a meeting of the authority's financing committee.
Sergio Pereira, a member of the authority, said it was hard to talk about money without having determined the site for the stadium.
"If the site is the Bicentennial Park, it will be more expensive than if it goes somewhere else," he said. "Location and cost go together."
George Burgess, executive assistant to the county manager, has told the authority that the financing alternatives were related to the site.
"A tax increment financing district is a revenue option if people want the Miami River site as the location for the stadium," he said. "The increment would have to be approved by the county and the city.
Some community leaders agree a stadium downtown could bring development but only if it is built in the right place. Otherwise, they said, it could be a waste of land and money.
"The current terms of the proposal need to be studied further," said Philip Blumberg, chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. "They don't match with the chamber's old position."
Mr. Blumberg said the chamber last year had agreed with Mr. Henry's idea of having a stadium in the waterfront park, only "as long as 50% of the area would remain an open green space."
The curently proposed 40,000-seat stadium would take 17 acres of the 29-acre park. Ballpark-access roads would use up some of the remaining acres.
"Our position is a baseball park downtown would be an important enhancement to community activities if it is sited appropriately," he said. "We would be much in favor."
Mr. Blumberg, also president and CEO of American Ventures Realty Co., which owns downtown office buildings in Miami, Coral Gables, Tampa and Houston, said because the park is blocks apart from the downtown's business district, it may not attract other development to its surroundings failing to activate an economically depressed district.
Port business leaders have said the traffic created by two arenas and a performing arts center in the area will clog truck traffic and delay shipping deliveries.
On the other hand, officials at neighboring Bayside Marketplace didn't seem concerned about the possibility of having a stadium next door because they said no agreement has been finalized.
"The American Airline Arena has had a positive impact on the usage of Bayside," said Jim McMichael, Bayside's marketing director. "We thought they would use our parking lots during the games. But that didn't happen. They park on Biscayne Boulevard. We have more people coming here during the game nights. The traffic situation has not deterred anybody from coming here. It has been very good for us."