Dade commissioner divided over Marlins stadium fate as they pore over contracts
By Risa Polansky
A week after receiving three-inch binders packed with five Marlins ballpark contracts, it appears most of Miami-Dade's 13 commissioners are holed up dissecting the elements of the $515-plus million stadium construction deal.
They're to decide Feb. 13 whether the county will commit to $347.5 million toward stadium construction, about $10 million in hard costs toward infrastructure and $35 million toward the Marlins' $154 million construction contribution, which the team is to repay through annual rent.
Of the four commissioners who returned calls requesting comment on the newly unveiled deal, two voiced support, two indicated they'd vote against — and some said they're still reading.
"At this particular point in time, I am still supportive of moving forward with building the stadium," Commission Chair Dennis Moss said.
But, he added, "I'm still doing my reading" and "the devil is still in the details."
One concern: financing the project in a tough financial climate.
"Our main concern would basically be whether or not the financial markets and the financial plan is something that's doable. I'm pretty comfortable with most of the other aspects of the agreement," he said, adding that approval from outside county consultants on the proposed costs and schedule is a comfort.
Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz is also a fan.
"I think the stadium and the jobs are what this community needs — it's important. So far I'm very positive on it," he said.
He acknowledged, though, that questions could still arise.
"It's a long document. I'm still going through it."
Thus far, county and Marlins officials seem willing to answer questions, he said — important because "there's too much to lose either way."
County administrators did not respond on the record to requests for an interview late last week and early this week, nor did they provide answers to the written list of Miami Today's questions a spokesman requested.
County Manager George Burgess, who has been the point person on the project, left town a day after releasing the contracts last week. His staff said he would not be available to address media questions until next week.
Commissioner Joe Martinez said he's compiled 30 to 40 questions he plans to discuss with county attorneys.
The Marlins stepped up to the plate on certain aspects, he said, including upping the days the stadium would be available for county events from eight a year to four during baseball season and unlimited during the off season.
"I was very, very satisfied with that," Mr. Martinez said.
Still, "it all comes down to the money part. They're [the Marlins] good community partners" who attend local events and support worthy causes, "but when it comes to money, it's just — this [deal] is not beneficial to the county. I have no clue how the administration could present this to us."
A deal-breaker for Mr. Martinez: "They want us to consider using non ad valorem revenue, and that comes from the general fund," which supports departments such as transit and parks and recreation.
"That's going to be a very, very tough sell," he said. "I don't agree with that at all."
He noted also that the deal "makes our initial investment 74% of the total funding."
Once the Marlins repay their $35 million share, "it comes down to 69% — the county gets very little in return when it comes to payment," Mr. Martinez said.
Commissioner Katy Sorenson said the same in listing "three strikes" against the deal.
"Strike one, the county puts in three times as much money as the for-profit team," she said. "Strike two, I think our money could be used for broader public purposes" such as parks and museums.
She pointed out also that the county is already on the hook for millions in costs being incurred now even if officials choose to walk away from the deal through an out clause that's open through June.
And "strike three, no significant long-term jobs are being created," Ms. Sorenson said.
In supporting the building of the project, Mr. Moss said it "will mean a lot in terms of creating jobs and economic stimulus."
Mayor Carlos Alvarez said the same in a statement last week.
"Let's not forget, right now a stadium means jobs — thousands of jobs. This is the kind of project which will help our economy in the short and long run."
But, Ms. Sorenson said, "in this time of an economic downturn, it's completely the wrong time to be trying to build a sports stadium for people who have the money to do it themselves."
It's unknown whether the Marlins have the money to do it themselves.
Should the county and city approve the deal, they'd be partnering with "Marlins Stadium Developer LLC," a Delaware limited liability company.
In unveiling the documents last week, County Manager Burgess acknowledged "the stadium developer is a shell."
That's why the assurance agreement, one of the five contracts that make up the stadium deal, pins the team down in the end, he said.
It guarantees the county and the city a subordinated security interest in the Marlins franchise to hold the team responsible for the "stadium developer's" funding obligation, including all cost overruns beyond those deemed to be caused by local government.
The agreement also puts the team on the hook for a $20 million bank line of credit "or other similar financial arrangement" to fund overruns.
But it's unclear who is to sign the agreement on behalf of the team.
The documents reference only "Double Play Company," Florida Marlins L.P.'s "general partner."
Another funding issue Mr. Martinez said he sees: the team is set to bond late in the project.
"What makes us think that they'll be able to?" he said, pointing to floundering markets.
If they can't, "it's going to wind up being that the county's going to build the whole 100%. That's not acceptable."
In this economic time, "there's a difference between our needs, our wants and our wish list," he said. "And this right now is in the wish list."