Dade County's Martinez insists ballpark lacks enough votes
By Lou Ortiz
A $525 million Florida Marlins stadium isn't a done deal, hinging on passage of two critical Miami-Dade County commission votes in July that is far from certain.
"You need nine votes" to pass the ballpark management and construction agreements "and you don't have nine votes," Commissioner Joe A. Martinez warned commissioners Tuesday during a discussion of how stadium police and fire protection would be divided among the City of Miami and the county.
Mr. Martinez said he plans to vote against the stadium agreement because he does not support spending public funds for a private entity. He's not alone.
At least two other commissioners are sour on the deal: Javier D. Souto and Carlos A. Gimenez.
A fourth commissioner, Katy Sorenson, who voted for a multi-project agreement in December between the City of Miami and the county that included the Marlins stadium, said then that she was not in favor of spending public funds to build a stadium for millionaire owners. She voted for the overall package because it contained funding for the cultural arts, including the Performing Arts Center.
"I'm with you," Mr. Gimenez told Mr. Martinez during Tuesday's discussion.
Mr. Gimenez said the Marlins are one of the most profitable teams in Major League Baseball, yet the portion of stadium funding the team is to provide was cut during negotiations.
In December, the Marlins had agreed in a preliminary deal to put up $155 million. In February, the figure had dropped to $120 million, with the county financing $35 million through general obligation bonds. The team would pay the county $2.3 million in annual stadium rent until the bonds are paid off.
Mr. Gimenez agreed that the commission won't have enough votes to pass the agreements by July 1, and said money is being spent "we could use for better purposes."
For construction to start in November as planned and the stadium to be ready for opening day in April 2011, the county must meet the July deadline.
County Attorney Robert Cuevas Jr. told commissioners that a two-thirds commission vote of those present is needed on each agreement.
On Feb.21, the commission voted 9-3 to approve the stadium deal.
The city is spending millions to demolish the Orange Bowl, where the ballpark is to rise, and the Marlins are to pay for engineering and design for the 37,000-seat retractable-roof stadium.
"It's going to come back and bite us," Mr. Martinez said about the money the city and team are spending, because if no stadium deal is completed by Aug. 31, the city, the county and the Marlins are to share those out-of-pocket costs equally.
"I like baseball," Mr. Souto said. "Not to the point of making things easy for a group of millionaires, using the people's money."
He said other professional teams are building stadiums at their own expense, and when the county is involved the costs soar. He said building the performing arts center was expected to cost $147 million and ended up being $476 million.
"All the red lights are flashing," he said, "but we keep going."