Ideal scenario: Miami Arena site becomes new home of Florida Marlins, owner says
By Scott E. Pacheco
Once the Miami Arena comes down, it's up in the air what will become of its five downtown blocks.
Property owner Glenn Straub says he expects the old arena to come down within weeks, and that he is open to several options on the five blocks. These include a first-class soundstage, a home for Cirque du Soleil or one of its competitors, a project that fits in with the designs of other developers in the area or, if it were up to him, the planned Florida Marlins stadium.
"You take and bring a baseball stadium down here" and businesses follow, Mr. Straub said. "People want to be around where there's activity."
He said the arena hasn't been in use since it was damaged by a hurricane about three years ago.
A new stadium needs to be ready for baseball by opening day 2011, because the Marlin's lease at Dolphin Stadium — its current home — expires after the 2010 season. A proposed retractable-roof stadium at the Orange Bowl site is projected to cost $515 million.
But while economic development executive Frank Nero likes the idea of a downtown ballpark, he said the feasibility may no longer exist for such a prospect.
Mr. Nero, president and CEO of the Beacon Council, the county's economic development public/private partnership, said while "history has shown the closer you get it to downtown is ideal," the old Orange Bowl site is the best chance to make a new ballpark a reality.
"I hope Braman's suit is not successful because I think that that train has already left the station," Mr. Nero said, referring to a lawsuit by automobile dealer Norman Braman that seeks to force a public vote on funding the ballpark and other elements of the so-called mega-plan package of public projects. "Any more time would doom the development of the stadium. I don't know if the Orange Bowl is the ideal site, but it has become the best site because it has the best chance at having the stadium built."
Backers of a ballpark liked downtown but the Marlins and public officials couldn't assemble adequate acreage. They then selected the former football stadium site.
At the Miami Arena site, many just want something that will contribute to the economy.
Officials with the City of Miami Community Redevelopment Agency say they'd like something that generates dollars and jobs to replace the arena.
"The way it negatively impacts the city is it's been a haven for a lot of homeless gathering around it," said Clarence Woods, assistant director of the CRA. But "once it's knocked down, then that [tax] increment is gone."
According to Miami-Dade County records, the assessed value of the property is about $24.7 million, with total state, local and school taxes on the arena totaling $560,082.
CRA Director James Villacorta said a major negative is that the arena is "underutilized."
"It'd be nice to see something there, something that creates jobs."
City Commissioner Mark Sarnoff likes the idea of a soundstage to help enhance Miami's television and movie production sector.
"A soundstage would be a great idea for the city of Miami," said Mr. Sarnoff, who emphasized that whatever goes there is the decision of the private owner.
Mr. Straub, a Palm Beach businessman, bought the arena in 2004 for $28 million. The arena, built in 1988 for $52.2 million, was home to the Miami Heat and Florida Panthers. Both teams moved out of the building in the late 1990s, and the city eventually sold it at auction to Mr. Straub.
The arena is in Park West, where developers Marc Roberts and Art Falcone have purchased a lot of land. While neither Mr. Roberts nor Mr. Falcone returned calls, Mr. Straub said he would be willing to work with them with one of their projects.
The Beacon Council's Mr. Nero said Park West has "great potential," but development may have to wait until the market picks up.
"The potential is somewhat delayed given the economic cycle we are in."