Ho hum: Marlins hand county yet another stadium deadline
By Michael Lewis
Miami-Dade County is under deadline pressure to persuade the Florida Marlins to accept public money and land so the team can build a stadium where the Orange Bowl now stands.
"The clock is truly ticking," County Manager George Burgess was quoted about rushed private deal-making with the Marlins.
Team owners aim to pocket revenues from a public stadium's corporate suites, naming rights, parking, concessions and advertising. Mr. Burgess told a bond oversight board last week the county must finish negotiations within a few weeks if the team hopes to use a new stadium by 2011.
Pardon the public's yawn. We've seen this show before — over and over.
Who can remember when the county hasn't been under the gun to get a stadium deal done on pain of losing the Marlins to someplace with a bigger wallet and an even more gullible government?
Threats started with former owner John Henry, though they've escalated and multiplied under the Jeffrey Loria ownership. The boy who cried wolf has nothing on the Loria team.
Back in 2001, Mr. Henry told the world he needed a stadium by 2005 to keep the team here. Even a delay until 2006 would cost him more than $100 million, he said. When the deadline to open in 2005 passed, Mr. Henry made it clear that if a new stadium wouldn't be available by 2006, he and his team would go.
That's the only missed deadline so far with even a shred of impact — the team stayed, but Mr. Henry did go, selling to the Loria group and going on to buy the Boston Red Sox, who still play in ancient Fenway Park while the Marlins try to exit modern Dolphin Stadium.
Among deadlines too numerous to catalog, the Loria-owned Marlins gave us until March 15, 2004, to get them a site and financing plan they'd deign to accept.
When that date passed, they gave us until May 1, 2004.
Next, President David Samson said he'd extend the deadline to May 6 so commissioners could vote on a retractable-roof stadium beside the Orange Bowl.
By September 2004, Mr. Samson said the Marlins needed a stadium for 2007 if the team was to remain in South Florida because their lease was to expire after 2006. That lease was later extended through 2010.
With still no deal, in mid-May 2005 Major League Baseball — run by all team owners — stepped in and said if no deal was struck by June 9, 2005, something drastic (they wouldn't say what) would happen. No deal, and nothing happened.
Next, the Marlins started talking about moving to San Antonio, TX. But that city gave them a deadline of their own, May 15, 2006, to decide. That deadline, too, went by the boards.
So now we have a whole new deadline. We have just weeks. If we don't do what the Marlins want, we'll suffer the dire consequences, which may include giving us a new deadline that we must meet or else face even more deadlines.
You can understand the Marlins' urgency. A new ballpark will provide a huge revenue stream that now goes to Dolphin Stadium owner H. Wayne Huizenga and, far more important, multiply the team's value. The sooner we commit public money and land, the sooner the Loria group can sell their minimal investment for a massive profit.
You can also understand Major League Baseball's urgency. The Loria group has yet to pay off the loan that the league extended so they could get the team from Mr. Henry. When Mr. Loria sells, all team owners will share in the proceeds.
What's harder to understand is the gullibility of government in committing bond funding on the word of a weak ownership that rent will be paid and the team will play here 35 or 40 years more. That's far less credible than was the promise a few years ago that county taxes would never be tapped to run the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts.
Of course, the stadium, like the arts center, is not business. It's emotion: if we don't have an arts center or big league baseball, Miami will become minor league.
That's the threat the Loria ownership and the league hold over Miami. Their problem is, they need us far more than we need them — our television market is massive, even if baseball ticket sales don't match the numbers at a good high school football game.
That being so, government could take a page from the Marlins playbook and give the team its own two-week deadline: come up with a far larger share of stadium costs and ironclad guarantees on construction overruns backed by more than the mere word of the Marlins.
And if the Marlins don't make the deadline, government could take firm action: set another deadline, and then another, and then another, until we get what we want. As years of negotiations go on, so will baseball — and hundreds of millions of public dollars will not be spent.
Two can play this deadline game.