Downtown land owner details stadium option
By Scott E. Pacheco
If the Marlins stadium deal in Little Havana doesn't pass both city and county votes, Glenn Straub says he could save government millions.
Mr. Straub, who owns the downtown property where the Miami Arena used to stand, said he has been approached recently by city and county commissioners who have inquired about the land and former plans to build a ballpark there.
He said he would be willing to build a stadium there himself and be reimbursed by rent. He referred to sources of rent payment that could include the team, local government or Major League Baseball.
He said he has the cash flow to finance the first half of the stadium and the means to do the whole thing if need be. This would take the burden off bed tax dollars — and the accompanying $1.6 billion in interest from bonding — that are being counted on heavily to fund the proposed ballpark in Little Havana, he said.
"We're ready to go — just giving them the opportunity to come and do it," said Mr. Straub, a Palm Beach businessman, who refused to say who the commissioners were who approached him or what side they were on in battles over the current proposal.
Even if commissioners wanted to go in that direction, they'd still have to convince the team.
In August, Marlins President David Samson said the odds of moving downtown from the current Dolphin Stadium site on the Broward County line fall somewhere between "zero and negative," and "the site at Little Havana is the proper site for baseball" — though the team for years sought a downtown site, including the arena land.
A Marlins spokesman said Tuesday that the team's stance hasn't changed, and that Mr. Samson hasn't spoken with Mr. Straub in more than a year. Mr. Samson couldn't be reached.
Mr. Straub said his plan relies first on the fact that he has half of what is needed to fund a ballpark "in cash reserves." He said he would depend on his funds and rental fees to build the stadium, though he could curtail his other private investments if he needs to raise extra cash to finish the project. He refuses to put a price tag on the project.
He said he would then lease the ballpark for baseball, which would put it on a "pay-as-you-go" schedule. If at any time, the team, county or city wanted to buy out Mr. Straub, they could do so for the amount invested, he said.
He said 17.2 acres is available — 11.7 between his land, railroad land and a dead-end street in the area, and another 5.5 acres that Major League Baseball optioned two years ago.
He said there is possibility of another acre where a small AT&T telecom building stands. But moving the structure could prove costly, he said, and the ballpark could be built around it.
Mr. Straub's plan would alleviate one major concern for some that because of tourism erosion in the recession bed taxes used to fund the public's portion of the Little Havana stadium might fall short and general funds might have to be tapped.
But Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said Monday that "we are very confident the projections we have done are very conservative" and that the county will meet "and exceed" needs over 35 years.
The county projections call for a 2% bed tax collection decline this year, followed by no change from that level for two years before rising and then leveling off for a 5% average annual growth over the next few decades.
However, William D. Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the tourist development tax could plummet 12% through September, and reiterated that number last Friday at a Downtown Bay Forum.
Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who on Feb. 13 voted against a Marlins' stadium financing plan, said he hasn't had recent conversations with Mr. Straub about building the Florida Marlins a stadium at the old Miami Arena site.
But he said if the Marlins deal at the Orange Bowl doesn't work out, Mr. Straub's property would be an option — especially if he is willing to finance the project.
"That would alleviate my concern for the general fund," Mr. Sarnoff said, because he fears building the stadium under the current agreement terms is a big gamble that could drive the city to dip into general funds to finance the project.
He said if an investor is willing to put up the cash, it would free bed tax revenues to invest in improving the Miami Beach Convention Center and to build a much-needed convention center inside the Miami city limits. The Coconut Grove Convention Center — the only one in Miami — awaits demolition later this year.
Mr. Sarnoff said another advantage to building the stadium downtown is the mass transit component.
"This would facilitate the utilization of mass transit to get people to use the Metrorail and people mover," he said, adding it would also give downtown residents fast access to the stadium and be an easy drive for Broward fans to come to games.
Mr. Straub also said he would like to use the city-owned Orange Bowl site to build equestrian and soccer facilities as part of a downtown stadium deal, though that it is not a "deal-breaker."
Other options for the Miami Arena site that have been talked about include a soundstage, a home for Cirque du Soleil or one of its competitors, or linking the land with other developments on that area's horizon.
Staff writer Yudislaidy Fernandez contributed to this report.