Herald's backing of Marlins stadium based on pure myth
By Michael Lewis
As sure as Miami's summer brings humidity, a baseball stadium deal brings accolades from the Miami Herald. After all, that paper pushed for American Airlines Arena and the Performing Arts Center, so why not another county giveaway?
Editorializing, dead right or dead wrong, is constitutionally protected so that the public can weigh all views. Since the Herald is the only real game in town, however, its views are the only ones most of us get.
That should compel the Herald to weigh positions carefully and be sure it gets the facts straight. Support or oppose based on facts, not fiction.
A key reason the Herald backs the Marlins stadium deal, in the words of its March 28 editorial, is that "once the stadium is built, they will occupy it for only half the year, leaving the county free to use the stadium for other paying events."
What the Herald is saying is that once government lays out about $400 million to build a stadium, it can at least program offseason events and pocket the revenue. If we don't find that argument compelling, it's at least a reason to support a stadium built at public expense.
Unfortunately, that argument is pure fiction.
The written agreement the Herald is supporting states clearly that other than 16 days a year, the Marlins or an operator they choose would program everything in the stadium and the Marlins would get every penny from everything they program. And even those 16 days are for non-profit events only.
Here's the wording:
"The Ballpark Operator and the Marlins shall be entitled to all of the revenues arising from or with respect to the Ballpark. The County and the City shall have up to sixteen (16) days combined for non-profit events, subject to customary restrictions. The County and the City shall receive all revenues and pay all direct expenses from such events."
So where did the paper come up with a half-year of government use and revenue?
"I was wondering about that when I read it," said County Manager George Burgess, who is pivotal in the deal. And, he said, that provision has not changed - it's still just 16 days.
If this deal goes through - it's still in question - Mr. Burgess says he'd be pleased to see the Marlins use the site profitably year round so they could afford the rent: "The stronger they are, the stronger we are."
But that's it: Offseason programming would be strictly the Marlins' prerogative, and receipts from tickets, concessions, stadium advertising, sponsorships and the rest would be totally the Marlins' money, not the county's.
It is, of course, a perfectly rotten deal for taxpayers, who would pay almost all the stadium's costs and get nothing but rent that's far less than the Marlins now pay at Dolphins Stadium.
In that respect, it parallels the American Airlines Arena deal. The chairman of Knight Ridder, which owns the Herald, represented the county, the City of Miami and Miami's sports authority and personally negotiated handing the billionaire owner of the Miami Heat a half-billion-dollar arena on Miami's bayfront from which government, nine years later, has yet to get a thin dime in return. The Heat's owner controls a major Herald advertiser, Carnival Cruise Lines.
The Herald's support also parallels its strong backing of a terrible Performing Arts Center site half-surrounded by land that parent Knight Ridder had just bought cheap under dummy corporate names and today is about to sell for $190 million.
Let's assume that in the case of the baseball stadium, the Herald has nothing hidden to gain and that its leaders sincerely believe the deal is good for this county. They have a constitutional right to be wrong.
It would be nice, however, if they had actually read the deal before misleading us about what it says.
The editorial might fool legislators from whom the Herald and the Marlins seek a $60 million sales-tax rebate for the stadium. Legislators won't read the agreement any more than the members of the Herald editorial board did.
As a result, we might end up with a baseball stadium, which is what the Herald wants. The only losers would be the public and the truth.