Economics Demand That County Overturn Stadium Giveaway
Written by Miami Today on January 8, 2009
Very soon, in the grip of the most severe recession they have ever known, Miami-Dade commissioners will be asked to spend more than half a billion dollars for a baseball stadium that the county will own but not control.
They’ll be asked to vote on four long, detailed contracts with the Florida Marlins that they have yet to see.
These 13 part-time commissioners are to get two weeks to read, digest and analyze the contracts. Then they’ll get an hour or two to ask questions and posture in public, after which they’ll have to vote on mortgaging our future.
It’s unlikely they’ll debate even five minutes the relative merits of spending scarce taxes on a stadium that would generate no permanent work while Washington holds a $1.5 billion request for aid to the county to add tens of thousands of vital jobs in a biting recession.
It’s also unlikely that commissioners will flyspeck complex contracts that would hand free and clear to a private owner naming rights that could yield up to $200 million — and commissioners certainly won’t see studies of what those rights might net the team.
Nor will commissioners learn the value of stadium advertising revenues over three decades, also going to the Marlins free and clear. Or concession revenues, also going to the Marlins free and clear. Or revenues from 59 luxury suites, also going to the Marlins free and clear.
They won’t be guaranteed how much ticket costs or stadium parking will rise — though the Marlins will tell them 5,000 (undesirable) tickets a year will be given to youth groups or charities.
They won’t be told that no stadium transit is funded, or that city-built garages that the Marlins would control are to serve only 5,750 season ticketholders, with all other fans left to hunt for parking in backyards.
Commissioners certainly won’t be told how the Marlins would use the stadium the 284 days a year they don’t play there.
Other than a maximum 16 of those days, the Marlins would get every penny of revenues from those uses — at least, under the 2008 agreement among the county, the Marlins and the City of Miami on which the four contracts are based.
Even though the county would own the stadium, it would get no say over use and no claim to those revenues. For 284 days, the Marlins would get the stadium rent free.
Nor are commissioners to see detailed studies of a municipal bond market that’s in shambles. If the county were able to sell bonds to build the stadium, as contracts will no doubt require, it would have to do so at vastly inflated interest rates, increasing by hundreds of millions the eventual cost to taxpayers.
Nor are commissioners likely to promptly learn details of other projects the stadium would require at public expense. No mention of a $180 million Metromover leg to the stadium, for example. Other construction won’t be mentioned either until contracts are signed. Some commissioners have in vain requested details.
Backup handed to commissioners with the contracts will certainly not spell out finances of the Florida Marlins themselves. They keep their financials secret. No county official has seen them. The team’s present debt load won’t be revealed, nor will its credit standing. Commissioners will be asked to trust the team to uphold its admittedly light end of the stadium burden on good faith alone.
Therefore, an owners’ guarantee to pay construction overruns will be empty. The cash-strapped Marlins almost certainly could not pay overruns. So, no matter what contracts say, commissioners would be leaving taxpayers liable for them.
And because the contracts would give the Marlins construction control, why hold down costs? If the team couldn’t fund overruns, the deep pocket would be taxpayers.
If history is repeated, in the short time commissioners weigh what the team insists is an urgent vote they’ll focus on reserving construction and vendor contracts for their districts or ethnic groups. They’ll also debate which union friends will get such lucrative jobs as off-duty police patrols. They may even ask about team aid to youth sports.
So, due to a time crunch, lack of vital facts, pressures from the team to meet a deadline that has shifted for years, and myopic targeting of minutia when economic upheavals demand broad vision, the commission will pull its eye off the ball just when the economy demands a keen focus on using limited funds to get the most possible true job stimulus.
And in that most vital area, a stadium ranks dead last. The only jobs it would add are in construction, which would soon end. Other jobs are just shifted from elsewhere. It would lure far fewer visitors than most other uses of tourist development funds that the stadium would suck dry.
From the outset the stadium deal has been even worse than its Orange Bowl location. Taxpayers are being asked to bail out owners who still owe Major League Baseball millions on a loan to buy the franchise. The sole public benefit is — help me out here, what is it?
The lopsided deal that led to the four stadium contracts was made by a county flush with rapidly rising tax income. Now a recession firmly rules out the waste when government funds are shrinking while needs balloon.
Citizen support of a stadium was scarce before the economic roof fell in. A poll today would find even that meager backing melting away.
This is the county commission’s first big test in the recession. A loud "No’ was always called for, because a stadium ranks last among needs, funds are tight and this deal reeks.
Just five votes could block one of the contracts, which requires waiving competitive bids for stadium management and construction.
Now, in the worst recession in any of their lives, how could any single commissioner dare to vote for a stadium?