Braman trial: sides argue over economic benefit of new Marlins stadium
By Risa Polansky
A new Miami Marlins stadium on the Orange Bowl site in Little Havana could mean tourists crowding the city for all-star events.
Flashes of Miami scenery during broadcasted games could lure out-of-towners here through their television screens.
And the neighborhood could see a major renaissance, with the catalytic stadium to thank.
Or, none of the above.
Miami-Dade County and Miami officials have touted the planned stadium as an economic engine for Little Havana and the region — but have no proof that it will be, said Attorney Robert Martinez in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Monday.
He kicked off the trial representing auto-magnate Norman Braman, who's crusading against the governments' $3 billion mega-deal of public works projects, including the Marlins stadium.
During his opening arguments, Mr. Martinez fleshed out Mr. Braman's opposition to the so-called "global agreement" — namely, that the public has the right to a say in the pact that lays out plans to fund the stadium, performing arts center debt, a port tunnel, a revamp of Bicentennial Park and a downtown streetcar using redevelopment and tourist tax dollars.
He and attorneys for the county and the team presented hours of background and legal intricacies supporting their respective sides of the story.
The economic potential of the planned stadium became a focal point.
The Marlins have one of the lowest attendance records in Major League Baseball, Mr. Martinez said.
No third party has studied projected attendance for the new stadium, he said, and no one has surveyed whether it would truly attract tourists.
He played for Circuit Judge Jeri B. Cohen video clips of city and county officials' depositions, asking whether any had seen studies of a Little Havana stadium's potential economic impact.
Answered Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, "No, I haven't seen any studies."
County Mayor Carlos Alvarez said the same, replying "no" also when asked whether he'd requested any, or any financial forecasts.
County Manager George Burgess also said he'd never seen an economic analysis of whether a stadium at the Orange Bowl would revitalize the neighborhood, as city and county officials continue to say it will.
Marlins President David Samson said the Marlins themselves have not done an economic study.
Asked whether anyone else has, he answered, "not that I've seen."
Economist J. Antonio Villamil in his deposition said nobody has studied the economic impact of a new Orange Bowl-based stadium on South Florida.
None exist that indicate that tourists come to Florida to watch the Marlins, he said.
When asked, he couldn't identify any businesses that relocated here because of the presence of a sports team, and said also that no investments have been made here for that reason.
Another economic expert hired by the county has written in the past that sports stadiums are poor public investments, Mr. Martinez said.
Assistant County Attorney David Hope agreed that no one has studied the impacts of a stadium in the Little Havana area, but said analyses had been done on Bicentennial Park and the Miami River when the county contemplated building the new stadium in those areas throughout the years.
The commissions didn't ask for a new study because old studies showed "there is an economic benefit," he said.
Mr. Hope did not cite specific results of past analyses but said Mr. Villamil plans to during his testimony.
He countered that Mr. Braman and his team don't have economic forecasts, either. "That's just his opinion."
The Florida Legislature has said attracting and keeping professional sports franchises is to the benefit of cities and the state as a whole — and charged localities to do it, he added.
Mr. Villamil, once a US Undersecretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs and chairman of the Governor's Council of Economic Advisors of Florida, also is to address the state's commitment to these types of projects, Mr. Hope said.
He said also that county chief economist Robert Cruz predicts that constructing the stadium will mean a half-billion-dollar increase to the gross domestic product.
Mr. Martinez conceded that building the 37,000-seat stadium will create construction jobs but said that doesn't make the stadium an overall benefit to the public.
Mr. Hope argued that "these sorts of recreational facilities serve a paramount public purpose," even if they in-turn also benefit a private party — in this case, the Marlins.
"There's an understanding that private entities may gain, but the gain of the private party is incidental," he said, and doesn't change the "public character of the project."
Sanford Bohrer, attorney for the Marlins, pointed out also that media coverage of sports games means telecasting "flattering" shots of Miami, which could boost tourism here, benefiting everyone.
Out-of-town guests also could pour in for events such as all-star games, he said. The mid-summer all-star game is rotated each season among the Major League's 30 teams, though the league is refusing to let the Marlins host the game until a new ballpark is built.
Overall, the stadium deal means Miami not only keeps the Marlins, but keeps them as the Miami Marlins, Mr. Hope said.
"There is a price for doing that."