Marlins following stadium trend of vastly more seats than parking
By Risa Polansky and Lou Ortiz
Somehow, a 37,000-seat ballpark with 5,750 parking spaces doesn't seem to add up.
Still, that's the way Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami and the Marlins orchestrated the baseball stadium agreement that they approved last week.
The numbers do appear off. But most of the nation's new ballparks work the same way.
Nationals Park in Washington, DC, to open this spring, is to hold more than 41,000 fans but offer 5,000 designated parking spaces at most — and only to season ticket holders.
Others are expected to take public transportation to the games.
PETCO Park, which opened in San Diego in 2003, offers 42,455 seats and 11,000 designated parking spots.
Its Web site points others to the 27,000 spaces in the downtown area around the park.
Comerica Park in Detroit, open since 2000, offers 40,000 seats but operates only 4,500 parking spaces.
And here in Miami, at the Orange Bowl site, ample parking is expected to be found where the University of Miami Hurricanes left it: residents' front lawns.
"For events that draw a large audience, we understand there will be overflow parking in the neighborhood," said City Manager Pete Hernandez in an interview after the city vote.
This is how the city "sort of balanced the parking," he said.
Attendees can expect to pay about $15 for a spot in the planned 6,000-space onsite garage, Mr. Hernandez said.
The Marlins — who will get 250 spaces free for their own use — are to rent the rest of the spots from the city for about $10 each during every home game for the first five years.
The price goes up every year after that, to about $12.50 by year 31.
The payments are expected to be sufficient to "service the debt, to handle the operating expenses and to put money into an account for capital repairs (on the $94 million garage)," he said.
A soccer stadium could also be built on the site, and baseball and soccer seasons overlap.
But Mr. Hernandez maintained the teams would "work out the dates" to ensure only one event be held at a time, avoiding a parking crisis.
He noted also that "at this time" he foresees no need to enact eminent domain on nearby properties in developing the site to make way not only for the $525 million baseball stadium, but also for potential retail, restaurants and perhaps even a hotel.
The total amount of funding necessary to adjust surrounding infrastructure to accommodate the new development has yet to be calculated, he said, but expects "not a very significant amount," possibly $10 million from the city and about the same from the county.
The city's share could be paid for with Streets Bonds, Mr. Hernandez said, but "we'll know more once we do the other agreements."
Now that the overall terms have been agreed to, pacts regarding specifics such as construction and management are to follow.
City commissioners approved the broad baseball agreement 4-1, with Tomás Regalado dissenting.
Not because he doesn't support keeping baseball in Miami, he said, but because of the deal's ties to the global agreement between the city and county, which he has called a backdoor arrangement.
So did some residents who came to speak against the stadium plans, demanding the plans be voted on by the public.
"No one has said "let's take it to a vote'" during any other baseball discussions over the years, Commission Chair Joe Sanchez said.
"It is a good investment for the city," he maintained. "This stadium will create economic vitality" in an area that needs it.
As district commissioner, he was a proponent for leaving open opportunities for neighborhood parking, contending that his constituents depend on the money.
Meanwhile, at the county, the commission approved the Marlins' pact by a vote of 9-3, despite concerns ranging from wanting assurances that the team would be competitive to allowing Miami-Dade fire and police units to provide service at the new ballpark.
That deal is to be struck within a month.
But Bob Dupuy, the chief operating officer for Major League Baseball, said the Marlins would be competitive, despite its league-low current payroll.
"We sell competition," Mr. Dupuy told commissioners. "This is a very young franchise and they've already won two world championships."
Mr. Dupuy didn't directly answer the question posed by Commissioner Dennis C. Moss, who alluded to the team's practice of selling its big stars over the years.
Mr. Dupuy said the new stadium "will allow the team to be successful."
Commissioner Sally A. Heyman voiced concerns about money being taken from the county's general fund to the stadium, possibly short-changing programs for affordable housing and healthcare, among others.
She was also concerned about unforeseen stadium construction cost overruns above the team's commitment of $20 million, which the Marlins plan to secure through a line of credit.
"If they need more than $20 million, they're responsible for covering those costs," County Manager George Burgess told commissioners.
County staff also pledged to Ms. Heyman that no money would come from the general fund to finance the stadium.
County Mayor Carlos Alvarez told commissioners before their vote that the agreement keeps baseball affordable — 81,000 seats will be available at $15 each for the 2011 season — and the area gets publicity that "you can't put a price tag on" when the team changes its name to the Miami Marlins.
No one on either commission addressed the added cost of parking.
Mr. Burgess said the construction of the stadium is "an investment in the urban core" because new ballparks "help revitalize neighborhoods," alluding to Little Havana.
Commission Chairman Bruno A. Barreiro said the stadium would benefit the city, county and region. "I think the entire community supports this," he said. "Professional sports do create a ripple effect in the economy."