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Front Page » Top Stories » City County Managers Huddle With Baseball Official

City County Managers Huddle With Baseball Official

Written by on September 16, 2004

The president of Major League Baseball came to town to huddle with the managers of Miami and Miami-Dade County over a proposal to build a government-financed baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins.

Robert A. Du Puy flew in to meet with the Marlins, Miami City Manager Joe Arriola and Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess, urging a rapid deal as Hurricane Frances threatened, said Mr. Arriola.

"He really did a great job," said Mr. Arriola, adding that a meeting among him, Mr. Burgess and Marlins President David Samson on Sept. 8 overcame three sticking points.

While plans to build a baseball stadium next to the Orange Bowl are well-known, Mr. Arriola and Mr. Burgess have cited remaining obstacles for nearly a year.

One is cost overruns. Mr. Arriola said the Marlins and Major League Baseball have agreed to jointly cover up to $100 million in overruns. He would not cite details.

Mr. Du Puy said Friday that Major League Baseball will not contribute financially to develop any stadium, a spokesman said.

Baseball’s No. 2 executive after Commissioner Bud Selig was visiting on a fact-finding mission that was successful, Mr. Burgess said, and Mr. Du Puy left "with the feeling that the deal can work."

He came, said Mr. Burgess, "to really get a sense from the city, the county and the team to report back to Selig" whether a deal can be made so that baseball knows what to do with the Marlins.

Two teams are likely to be moved, Mr. Burgess said Friday.

Montreal is one, he said. The second is one is unidentified.

The local talks, he said, spotlighted "the attractiveness of the South Florida market, what it represents to the future of Major League Baseball," which is looking at Caribbean and Latin American franchises.

Participants in negotiations say that even if a deal is signed, a stadium is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day 2007, which the team says is a must.

"The Marlins are struggling about what to do," said Mr. Arriola. "The stadium will not be ready when it’s needed."

"It’s highly unlikely in the best of circumstances that we could do it by 2007," said Mr. Burgess.

Marlins President David Samson was not available. He has said the team must have a new stadium for the 2007 season if it is to continue to play in Miami.

"If you ask all involved, not all would say that 2007 is impossible," Mr. Burgess said. The team is hopeful of that date, he said, but because not all steps toward a deal and then construction can prudently be taken concurrently, the date becomes complicated. "I think there’s more and more recognition of that" by all three parties, he said.

Mr. Arriola said the ballpark architect agrees that completion in time for the 2007 season is impossible.

A possible solution, Mr. Burgess said, would be to target a move to a new stadium in midseason, possibly after the annual mid-July break for the All-Star Game. That date, he said, might be feasible.

The most recent target date in the complex effort to construct a publicly funded stadium beside the Orange Bowl Stadium was August, which was the time when negotiations among the three parties were to be concluded.

That date, Mr. Burgess said, was set to get participants moving. He said that by October, a memo of understanding should be signed if the stadium effort is to be in line for consideration by the Florida Legislature for a $2 million annual sales-tax exemption, which has a current bondable value of about $30 million – the amount that the financial package for the stadium now is short. The Marlins unsuccessfully sought the $30 million in the last legislative session.

The county to this point has agreed in principle to $120 million in financing for a 38,000-seat stadium, with $28 million coming from the city’s tourism-development tax receipts to build the stadium, whose estimated cost now is $325 million. The other elements of the funding are $127 million in rent from the Marlins and $20 million in equity – a component that has never been explained.

The Marlins are seeking a new home because they get little revenue from stadium advertising, luxury boxes, naming rights, concessions and parking receipts at Pro Player Stadium.

In a new stadium, they would be the principal beneficiaries of those revenue streams, not Pro Player Stadium owner H. Wayne Huizenga, the first owner of the Marlins. Mr. Huizenga sold the team to John Henry, who in turn sold it to a syndicate headed by art dealer Jeffrey Loria.

The ostensible reason for a new stadium always has been a roof to combat summer storms. While an inordinate number of games has never been rained out, the Marlins have cited the possibility of rain delays as a reason for lagging ticket sales.

Negotiations to build a stadium are moving forward, though a memo of understanding may be a month or more away with an operating agreement still to follow, participants said.

Issues are being cleared away one by one, said Mr. Arriola and Mr. Burgess.

"The deal isn’t done yet," Mr. Arriola said, but it has taken "huge steps. … We’re really close."

Mr. Burgess, while more circumspect in citing issues yet to be resolved, also was hopeful.

"We’re not crashing and burning," Mr. Burgess said. "Discussions are going forward. There is reason to believe we can reach agreement."

Mr. Burgess said he is still seeking from the Marlins a substantive and well-defined financing guarantee, not merely a guaranteed construction price. Noting the vast cost overruns of the county’s Performing Arts Center, which had a guaranteed construction price, he said he is seeking a solid rent stream and wants the county to hold the first obligation on contractual revenues of the team.

He said he does not want the county to finance construction of the stadium’s retractable roof and is seeking $30 million for that from the state.

Another point of concern for Mr. Burgess is guaranteed renewal and replacement funds for a depreciation account so the stadium will be kept in "like-new" condition. That would mean funds to upgrade air-conditioning systems, a retractable-roof mechanism and the like.

Mr. Arriola said that in meetings last week, "it is now clear" that the Marlins are to cover all maintenance of the stadium.

Finally, Mr. Burgess is looking for resolution of issues dealing with assembling land for the stadium, which under current proposals would be east of the Orange Bowl Stadium.

Much of the land would have to be taken by condemnation from private owners, Mr. Burgess said. While the county would be willing to lend its expertise to the effort, the assembly, cost and timing rest on the City of Miami, which is to provide the land for the stadium.

"To this point, the issue of location, land and the assembly of the land is something the city has been taking the lead on," he said.

Mr. Arriola said that in meetings last week with Mr. Burgess and Marlins President David Samson, the Marlins agreed to cover any cost above $12 million in land acquisition and infrastructure development needed for the stadium area.

"I am very encouraged," Mr. Burgess said. "I think we are moving in the right direction, and there is no reason to think we will not have a deal. But we’re not there yet," though in sporting terms, "we’re in the red zone."