Marlins County Debate Stadium Costs
By Scott Blake
Miami-Dade County staffers are planning to meet this week with representatives for the Miami Marlins to resolve a number of stadium-related expenses that the team has submitted to the county.
If the two sides can come to an agreement, they may be able to avoid going into arbitration to resolve or reduce the more than $4 million in Marlins expenses that the county is questioning.
Suzy Trutie, a county spokeswoman, confirmed the meeting but said she had no other details.
"I have to wait until they meet" before commenting on arbitration, Ms. Trutie said.
The Marlins have submitted pages of line-item expenses to be counted as part of the team’s share of the construction costs of Marlins Park in Miami’s Little Havana. As of last month, the county was contesting or requesting more information on more than 700 items submitted by the Marlins, amounting to more than $4 million.
The county has been planning to take a number of the expenses to an arbitration panel to settle, as outlined in the stadium’s construction administration agreement among the Marlins, the county and the City of Miami.
The retractable-roof stadium, which opened for the Marlins’ 2012 season, has a capacity of 37,000. Together with its parking garages, the complex cost in excess of $640 million to build, including $515 million for the stadium itself.
The stadium-financing deal worked out between Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and county and city officials has been one of the mostly criticized deals of its kind. It was a factor in the recall election of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez in 2011, followed by the exit of County Manager George Burgess, who worked on the deal and resigned in the wake of the recall election.
The Marlins Park project was mostly financed through sales of county and city bonds. When fully paid off over the next three-plus decades, the total cost in tax revenue will come to more than $2 billion, with some calculations running as high as $3 billion — which would make Marlins Park the most expensive stadium ever built.
Regarding the upfront construction costs, the county’s share of the bill reportedly came to $384 million, with the Marlins contributing $131 million and the city providing $127 million, mostly for the garages. Mr. Loria has maintained that the team’s share of the project actually comes to more than $161 million, plus costs related to the parking garages.
Under the agreement, the county owns the stadium and leases it to the Marlins, who get to keep all stadium-related revenues.
Ms. Trutie said the county has been in discussions with the Marlins to resolve the list of disputed expense items. The items that remain unresolved will be submitted for arbitration.
Some of the major items that were being questioned are $579,844 in expenses related to a maintenance agreement for the stadium’s scoreboards and $576,875 in expenses related to another maintenance agreement for the stadium’s elevators and escalators. The county is disputing those items on the grounds that they are not capital costs and thus should not be counted toward the Marlins’ share of the project, as defined in the terms of the agreement.
Meanwhile, the Marlins’ first season in their new stadium was a considered a major disappointment, with the team finishing in last place in the National League East with a 69-93 record amid diminished fan interest.
Soon after the season, the Marlins fired Manager Ozzie Guillen and traded some highly-paid players. The moves slashed the team’s payroll expenses from $108 million to what was expected to be an opening day payroll in 2013 of less than $40 million, according to Forbes magazine.
The payroll-reduced Marlins have gotten off to a poor start this season with 4-15 record as of Tuesday, keeping them in the basement of the NL East. The Marlins also are running near the bottom of the league this season in ticket prices, a gauge of fan interest, with an average price in the last week of $31, ranking them 26th among 30 teams, according to Seatgeek.com, a website that tracks ticket prices.
As of March, the Marlins had a calculated franchise value of $520 million, according to Forbes. Mr. Loria bought the team in 2002 for $158 million.
To defend the stadium deal and the franchise’s recent moves, Mr. Loria took out an advertisement in South Florida newspapers.
"Those who have attacked us are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts," Mr. Loria wrote. "The majority of public funding came from hotel taxes, the burden of which is incurred by tourists who are visiting our city, not the resident taxpayers. The Marlins organization also agreed to contribute $161.2 million toward the ballpark, plus the cost of the garage complex."To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e-MIAMI TODAY, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.