County faces deadline to make decision on baseball stadium
By Shannon Pettypiece and Susan Stabley
With a Dec. 1 deadline looming, county officials must decide whether to commit tax funds to a new baseball stadium or allow $50 million of it to be used to expand Miami Beach Convention Center.
Under an agreement made in April 2001 between Miami-Dade County and Miami Beach, the Florida Marlins would have to pledge by Dec. 1 to build a new stadium in the county if they want access to the county's tourism-related Convention Development Tax. If they don't, the next $50 million collected from the tax would go to Miami Beach, said County Manager George Burgess.
City of Miami leaders want a ballpark and are talking about possible sites.
During a World Series gala at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on Monday, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz said he was "intimately involved" in talks to build a home for the Florida Marlins in his city.
"Having it in Miami makes the most sense," Mayor Diaz said.
City Commissioner Joe Sanchez suggested refurbishing the historic Orange Bowl Stadium in his district for the Marlins. He estimated a revamping of the 74,000-seat stadium would cost $160 million.
Mayor Diaz said he "loved" the idea of putting the Marlins in a renovated Orange Bowl but also said he "loved" the idea of replacing the underused Miami Arena.
"We're not married to any options at this point," he said.
But as Mayor Diaz and Commissioner Sanchez praised the possibility of building a stadium in Miami, both expressed concerns about how to cover costs.
"Who's going to pay for it? That's the question I have," said Commissioner Sanchez.
The county's CDT revenue could be tapped to build a stadium, which could cost up to $450 million, but an agreement must be reached by Dec. 1 or funds will be depleted when Miami Beach gets its $50 million.
During previous talks to build a stadium in Miami, county officials expected to have $119 million in CDT funds. But with tourism falling off drastically after 9/11, the tax stream has been tapped dry, Mr. Burgess said.
"You're looking at a tourist-related stream. The revenue stream pre-9/11, which was the last time we were in serious talks about baseball, has changed," Mr. Burgess said last week.
Mr. Burgess said the $50 million that would go to Miami Beach would be a stretch for the county, which is barely able to fund current obligations with the tax stream.
"We are looking at our stream to see what may and may not be possible," he said.
Mr. Burgess said he has met with members of the Marlins organization to hear their needs for a stadium. The baseball team currently plays its home games at Pro Player Stadium, which they lease from stadium owner H. Wayne Huizenga.
"We have talked, and they have wanted to discuss their concerns and issues," Mr. Burgess said. "They are going to have a very difficult time sustaining themselves in their current arrangement at Pro Player."
There could be other county funding sources for a ballpark, county officials say, but it is too early to discuss other possibilities.
Marlins owner Jeffery Loria said Monday that he did not want to talk about a new stadium but said two weeks ago that any site, including the Miami Arena site, would be better than what the team has now.