Extra innings ahead in Marlins quest for new park
By Paola Iuspa
Civic leaders and Florida Marlins executives have agreed to keep talking about a plan to build a baseball stadium as the Marlins' self-imposed deadline passes today (2/15).
Team officials insist Bicentennial Park is the only site where the Marlins could start building a $385 million stadium right away to have it ready by 2004.
But some city officials and community leaders oppose having the waterfront park taken from them.
Miami Commissioner Johnny Winton told the Marlins on Monday that if the team stopped looking at the park as the only solution and started looking elsewhere downtown, negotiations would move faster.
"As soon as the Marlins get out of the Bicentennial Park," he said, "they will be able to do their job. The city cannot even focus on one site" to do a thorough assessment "because the Marlins cannot decide for one or two alternatives acceptable to the community."
Mr. Winton heads a committee working on redevelopment of the bayfront park. The Bicentennial Park Waterfront Renewal Committee held a workshop Saturday at which more than 300 persons showed up to help redesign the park. Results are to go before the city commission March 8.
The park is vital to residents of Overtown, Little Haiti and Allapattah, among others, Mr. Winton said.
David Ginsberg, Marlins' vice chairman, said he's willing to continue talking and listening to new proposals.
Juan Mendieta, spokesman for Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, said the mayor welcomed that decision.
"You don't want to throw everything out the window," he said. "We believe the time to reach an agreement is going to be extended."
A letter of intent signed 60 days ago between Mr. Penelas and the Marlins calls for a 40,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof on a site favored by the Marlins, which the Marlins have said is Bicentennial Park.
The reasons are many. The 17 acres needed from the 29-acre park are city-owned saving land purchasing time. The Marlins say construction could start immediately and have them playing in a new home by 2004 though that leaves unclear how long necessary environmental cleanup from years of fuel-oil contamination would take.
"If we don't have a state-of-the-art stadium by 2004," the team will lose $152 million, Mr. Ginsberg said. "Time is of the essence."
Mr. Winton told the Community Improvement Authority the state-created group charged with funding and site recommendations for county and city commissioners that the Marlins were trying to get public financing to solve "two major errors.
"Error No. 1," he said, Marlins owner John Henry "paid too much for the team, putting themselves in their 2004 economic-driven deadline. No. 2, they had to pick the most expensive and valuable piece of land in South Florida."
The Penelas-Marlins letter of intent designed the financing of the stadium by using $26 million in city parking surcharge, $122 million from a state sales tax refund, $75 million in bonds, $46 million in ticket surcharges and $119 million in convention development taxes.
The Marlins under the letter of intent would rent the county-owned stadium for 40 years.
The tax is a key component for negotiations to continue, Mr. Ginsberg said.
"If the community development tax goes away, the deal goes away," he said.
Mr. Ginsberg referred to a county moratorium on allocating convention development tax receipts for other projects. The county commission will have to decide when to lift that moratorium, observers said.
The city commission unanimously agreed last week to "provide the county" with an unspecified location for the venue as long as the city receives undefined "recurrent revenues," and to allow the parking surcharge.
Since mid-December, community leaders and city officials had come up with up to six proposals, in addition to the Marlins', to accommodate the team downtown while trying to preserve the park.
Miami Mayor Joe Carollo proposed moving Biscayne Boulevard west and add about 13 acres to the park to fit in the stadium and other proposed projects.
Maurice Ferre, former long-time Miami mayor, headed efforts commissioned by Mr. Penelas for another proposal that would reroute the boulevard east into the park. The stadium would then sit west of the boulevard, between it and Northeast Second Avenue.
Another idea of city officials was to tear down the Miami Arena in Park West to leave room for a baseball stadium.
City officials also explored building the stadium across from the Miami Arena, where most of the land is government owned.
Another proposal, publicly sponsored, pushed for the ballpark north of the Miami River. Miami Commissioner Tom s Regalado prompted city administrators to come up with a plan using the Orange Bowl.
Further discussion about converting the bowl to a baseball stadium was expected today in Miami City Hall at a time to be determined.
So far, team officials said, no proposal has been acceptable to the Marlins.