Miami Beach attorneys to review county stadium pledge
By Susan Stabley
Attorneys will scrutinize Miami-Dade County's latest pledge of tax revenue for a new baseball park because it would divert funds from the Miami Beach Convention Center and other projects if a stadium-financing plan is in place by March 15.
Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer said Tuesday that his legal staff will review the county's resolution to use $35 million in convention-development tax revenue.
The legality of using the bed tax as well as $38 million from a sports franchise-facility tax has been questioned by County Commissioner Jimmy Morales, who voted against the resolution.
"I don't see a legal pledge here," he said before the vote. "We're leaping into the void."
Commissioner Morales expressed concern that the $73 million package, later approved by the county 9-4, was rushed and prepared outside the usual process of vetting by committee. He cited American Airlines Arena as an example of a sports facility supported by the county that has failed to become an economic engine.
Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler said officials had to move fast on the decision to meet a Dec. 1 deadline under a 2-year-old agreement struck when the county was in an earlier negotiation to build a stadium for the Florida Marlins.
If Tuesday's pledge had failed to be approved, the county would have committed $50 million in convention tax funds to an expansion of the Beach's convention center.
Miami Beach officials Friday criticized using the funds for a stadium because of potential damage to the convention business - a foundation of the city's economy.
"I want to take a look at the resolution," Mayor Dermer said after Tuesday's county vote, "to see exactly what it states and confer with counsel to see how to proceed."
Depending on the site, a baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins could require an expensive, time-consuming planning process that could take up to two years and $1 million in "soft costs," said attorney Jeff Bercow, vice chairman of the City of Miami's Downtown Development Authority.
But if a ballpark replaces Miami Arena, its builders could avoid a Development of Regional Impact process, said Mr. Bercow, who heads an authority committee that deals with such requests.
A Development of Regional Impact is a review process facilitated by the South Florida Regional Planning Council in which local, state and federal agencies review a major project for the impact it could have on transportation, the environment and public services.
The Downtown Development Authority has been responsible for the city's master plan for growth, approved in 1987 for the city's business core.
The Marlins hope to begin playing in a new stadium, projected to cost $325 million, by April 2007, Marlins President David Samson said Tuesday. The club hopes to break ground by the end of next year.
The Major League Baseball team has pledged to contribute $137 million to build a 38,000-seat, retractable-roof stadium plus pay for cost overruns if the team has control over construction, Mr. Samson told county commissioners before they approved a $73 million pledge of convention-development and sports facility-franchise tax funds to the project.
The $325 million cost estimate does not include the cost of land. Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas said Tuesday that the City of Miami would lead efforts to locate a site.
The city, led by Mayor Manny Diaz and City Manager/ Chief Administrator Joe Arriola, is helping to structure the deal, said City Commission Chairman Johnny Winton, head of the Downtown Development Authority. "There's no structure on the table right now," Mr. Winton said Monday.
But a stadium deal could be similar to one proposed two years ago, when the Marlins were owned by John Henry. The big difference, Mr. Winton said, is that current Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is easier to work with.
"I am very happy with this ownership group," Mr. Winton said. "These owners have been terrific and demanded nothing. "No real plan been put forward," he said, "but we're making sure there is a doable deal that works for all parties, including the taxpayers."
The Downtown Development Authority is not involved in stadium negotiations but is "cheering on from the sidelines," said Mr. Bercow, who said a downtown ballpark would be possible.
"I think it's extremely realistic," he said.
Mr. Bercow said Tuesday that "there is no question that the old Miami Arena site is far superior to the Orange Bowl stadium" site.
If a stadium were built at the Miami Arena site, it would fall into an existing Development of Regional Impact and would be exempt from the process, said Mr. Bercow. "The DRI application would be needed if you place it anywhere else, including the Orange Bowl," he said.
The Miami Arena site also carries the advantage of having some infrastructure in place, with several modes of public transportation nearby and parking, he said.
However, the arena, built in 1988 for more than $47 million, has outstanding debt of $32.8 million on revenue bonds issued to finance construction, according to figures from the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority.
"It's not an automatic 'yes,' " said the downtown authority's executive director, Dana Nottingham. He said cities that have had success with a new ballpark have made it part of an urban design. "It has to fit the downtown and integrate into the community."
Still, Mr. Nottingham said, if the public and private sector can work together on a stadium project that leads to urban revitalization through mixed-use development, downtown Miami would be the ideal location for a stadium.
"Downtown is where the major market segments align," Mr. Nottingham said. "It's the nexus for 10 million visitors, the nexus for its 100,000 workers and a student population of 20,000 and the nexus of the residential market."