Two bond projects could have been paid for with stadium funds
By Susan Stabley
Two projects totaling $105 million in costs that are part of Miami-Dade County's proposed General Obligation Bond had been under consideration for expenditure of tourist-tax funds now pledged for a new baseball stadium.
Improvements to the Orange Bowl and the Miami Beach Convention Center have become part of the county's bond issue, set to go before voters in November. The county previously had considered tapping its Convention Development Tax fund to pay for those projects.
But county commissioners earlier this year decided to funnel $59 million from the tax fund toward a 38,000-seat stadium for the Florida Marlins on Southwest 17th Avenue next to the Orange Bowl in a preliminary agreement with the City of Miami.
Another $23 million from the fund is obligated to pay off bonds used to build Miami Arena. If the arena is sold in an auction next month, that money is to be diverted to the proposed stadium.
The Marlins still must fill a $30 million funding gap in a $367 million plan for a new stadium and parking garage. Stadium proponents hope construction will begin in December.
Tourist-tax revenues are expected to continue to grow and create a healthy pool that could help cover cost overruns at the Miami Performing Arts Center and a ballpark.
Revenue from the county's 3% Convention Development Tax, which it began collecting in 1982, is to pay for tourist-related facilities such as Miami Beach Convention Center and American Airlines Arena as well as museums, theaters, auditoriums and cultural centers.
Commissioner Jimmy Morales asked county commissioners at a meeting last week if Convention Development Tax money could be re-routed to Miami Beach Convention Center if a baseball stadium does not get built.
Then, he said, the county could free up $55 million for a 50,000-square-foot expansion of the convention center's banquet hall. The project is included in a bond question that will ask voters for $255 million to construct and improve public facilities.
Under an agreement in April 2001 between Miami-Dade County and Miami Beach, $50 million from the tax fund would have gone to Miami Beach had a pledge for a new baseball stadium not been in place by Dec. 1, 2003.
A renegotiation of the agreement commits the county to covering improvement costs at the convention center through its bond, County Manager George Burgess said at the meeting, when commissioners approved eight bond questions to go before voters Nov. 2.
Commissioner Morales and others objected to spending $50 million for renovations to the Orange Bowl, 1501 NW Third St., which is owned by the City of Miami. Funds for the project are packaged with a bond-issue question for $680 million worth of new parks and park improvements, beach renourishment, the purchase of environmentally endangered lands, new pools, gyms and other recreation facilities.
Miami city officials have said they are looking toward the Convention Development Tax to help pay for repairs and improvements to the Orange Bowl.
Estimates for fixing up the Orange Bowl range from $110 million to $130 million, according to the city. In March, Miami city commissioners bumped their estimate for costs to prep the aging stadium for the University of Miami's football season from $1.9 million to $2.4 million.
A motion to pull county bond dollars from the Orange Bowl failed but not without debate. Commissioners Morales, Natacha Seijas and Betty Ferguson voted for eliminating the Orange Bowl from the bond issue.
"So it's decrepit. That's not our fault," Commissioner Seijas said. "It's about time they grow up and take care of their business."