Real Marlins Stadium Success Must Come Outside Its Walls
Written by Michael Lewis on September 8, 2011
By Michael Lewis
Early impact of a baseball stadium into which government is pouring $3 billion comes not from Marlins ticket sales but from the ballpark’s fringes.
When Miami-Dade County committed taxes for 40 years, officials told us the deal meant economic growth. We’re about to see the first results.
It will be hard to gauge whether spending $3 billion so a team could move a few miles to Little Havana and keep all revenues from a public stadium triggers perceptible impact on the county.
But we should see impact around the stadium itself after it opens in April. If building booms or a vibrant entertainment district emerges or an upscale enclave springs up, we’ll link the change to the stadium.
Love or hate the ballpark deal, it’s real. It’s in Miami’s interest to wring all possible economic gain to offset massive stadium costs.
The first signs of that impact come as agents lease six retail sites in three of the four garages that the stadium contract forced the City of Miami to build for the Marlins.
Leasing isn’t being done in a free market. The contract with the Marlins severely restricts who can use the space.
For example, although the sites are just outside the stadium, tenants can’t sell anything connected with baseball — that’s reserved for the Marlins inside. Food and drink sales are also limited so the Marlins face no competition, either quality or price.
Even so, possibilities are many. And, as Miami Today’s Jackie Weiner has reported, prospective tenants haven’t exactly knocked down doors to get in.
What is clear is that interested users are neighborhood oriented, even though chains own them. These businesses would fit right into a working-class Hispanic neighborhood and appeal to neighbors more than to those coming to a game.
A leasing firm for the city, subsequently replaced, found that its prospects didn’t think 81 baseball games a year would lure enough customers and that even the prospect of the Marlins booking other events all year long — including soccer and football, for which the stadium has been geared — wasn’t a magnet.
On the other hand, Navarro Discount Pharmacy likes the space because of the neighborhood as it today.
Interested users have also included a neighborhood market and Latin cafe, a Pollo Tropical food store, a frozen yogurt shop, an Asian restaurant, and a 24-hour, seven-day restaurant serving beer, wine and liquor.
Given the right deal, all of these might have been prospects without bothering to build a stadium next door. The garages might be neighborhood development catalysts but hardly game-changers. Yet the stadium was supposed to be a game-changer.
To be fair, the Marlins never liked the site of the former Orange Bowl. Their other choices ranked far ahead. But they wanted the county to give them a stadium and all its revenues free, and political maneuvering led them there.
The Marlins get to lease out all the retail space in the stadium itself and collect all the rent. They’ve failed so far to woo a fine-dining restaurant and haven’t announced one tenant, with opening in less than seven months.
Maybe retailers are reluctant to target baseball fans rather than an ancillary customer stream because Marlins ticket sales are lowest of baseball’s 30 teams, an average of 18,353 per game — less than half the new stadium’s capacity. And Marlins ticket sales far exceed attendance, because many ticketholders don’t show up.
That’s not because the team is wallowing in last place, either. When the team plays outside of Miami-Dade, it’s 11th in attendance, not 30th, averaging 30,644 paid tickets.
Watch that ratio of home to road attendance after the stadium’s first year. Throughout baseball, attendance the first year in a stadium averages far higher than subsequent seasons, so the first year won’t be a valid yardstick. Too bad retailers can’t lease for just one full-house year.
Time will reveal the stadium’s add-on value to its neighbors. Coloring the long-term impact will be who then owns the team and how much owners invest to enhance both the franchise value and the community.
Other key factors include what other events owners book into the stadium, how compatible those events are with the area and whether rail ever links to the stadium.
Even more vital will be transformative changes in Miami.
Remember, 25 years South Beach was a shabby, dangerous retirement area. Ten years ago Wynwood wasn’t an art hub, any more than you’d use what is now Midtown Miami for anything but industrial storage.
Any change around the stadium might have little to do with use of the ballpark itself. Time will tell.