Agency head says city hasn't sought permission for stadium deal
By Eric Kalis
Despite reports that Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and Miami-Dade County officials are close to a deal to partially fund construction of a baseball stadium downtown with Community Redevelopment Agency money, the agency's director and chairman say the mayor has not contacted them.
The mayor's plan involves expanding the Overtown Community Redevelopment Agency's boundaries to include the 9 acres next to the Stephen P. Clark Center targeted for a stadium. But the agency would need to approve such a move, and Executive Director James Villacorta said he has not heard from Mr. Diaz about the possibility.
Mr. Diaz wants to expand the agency's reach to the north and west to help support, through construction bonds, a $500 million retractable roof stadium for the Florida Marlins and spur surrounding development. The stadium would be built next to the Clark building on a site currently reserved for a new $110 million Juvenile Justice Center.
The Northwest Third Street site is currently used for parking.
"I had not heard about [the stadium idea] until I read about it in the paper," Mr. Villacorta said. "I do not think it has evolved to the point where the mayor is ready to suggest it. Out of fairness to the mayor, I am sure he is trying to move the city ahead by exploring all possibilities."
Mr. Diaz is in Tallahassee this week for the Florida Legislature's special session and was unavailable for comment. City director of communications Kelly Penton said Tuesday that the mayor has remained optimistic about the stadium possibility.
Recent reports were prompted by comments from Major League Baseball officials that a new stadium here is a priority for the organization, Ms. Penton said.
The first step toward expanding the Community Redevelopment Agency boundary would be a study of the site to prove it fits the agency's criteria for blighted conditions, Mr. Villacorta said. After subsequent public hearings, the agency board, which is composed of city commissioners, must approve the expansion before county commissioners vote, he said.
Former agency director Frank Rollason said Friday that it would be "difficult to go into an area with a multimillion-dollar stadium and conclude that it is slum and blighted."
Agency chairwoman and City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones said last week that using CRA funds to help support a baseball stadium is not a priority of the agency. "The bottom line is that with any CRA funds coming out of Overtown, the focus has to be on housing, infrastructure to prepare the area for growth and supporting existing businesses," Ms. Spence-Jones said. "The preservation of historic sites also must be addressed before we think about a stadium. The idea of having a stadium downtown could be great, but we have to think about the people first."
Agency officials have not researched what potential gains expanding the boundary would produce, Mr. Villacorta said. If the county owned the stadium, the agency would not receive revenues from concessions and ticket sales, which would be shared by the county and city.
An example of a similar setup is the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, Mr. Rollason said. The agency contributes $1.4 million annually in construction bonds but is not entitled to a share of the center's revenue, he said.
The agency and city commission approved expansion of the agency's boundary north of Interstate 395 two years ago, but county officials have not made it official, Mr. Rollason said. The expansion has been delayed as agency and county officials attempt to work out a deal with the Children's Trust, a special taxing district created within the boundary by county ordinance in 2002 to use ad valorem tax revenue for children's programs, he said.
"When the county established the trust, it did not think about the CRA," Mr. Rollason said. "You cannot take money from the CRA and give it to other taxing agencies. The county tried to coerce the CRA to pass a resolution that the money would go to the trust, but I refused to pass it. The city supported me, and when I left [in August], it was not resolved."
Both sides are working on modifying the language of the agency's covenant with hopes of reaching an agreement, Mr. Villacorta said.
The redevelopment agency receives tax-increment funding, which derives from increased taxable values above the property valuations that existed when the agency was created. The conflict between the agency and county stems from a county ordinance that awarded the Children's Trust one-half mill of annual ad valorem tax revenue within the trust's taxing district. The trust's half-mill is in addition to the annual millage adopted by the county.
A stadium could effect the redevelopment agency's plan to fund projects for affordable housing, infrastructure and historical preservation with a projected pool of $340 million in tax-increment money over the next 20 years. Agency officials heard proposals late last year from companies and non-profits seeking CRA funding for their projects. The agency is prioritizing the proposals.
Meanwhile, county officials have been trying to persuade the Legislature to approve a $60 million state tax subsidy to support a stadium deal. Gov. Charlie Crist has indicated he is open to considering state support for a stadium.
The county would use bonds and tourist taxes to pay for construction. The Marlins would lease the stadium from the government.
The county has looked at several other locations for a stadium, including Hialeah and the Orange Bowl.