County officials still eye community cash for stadium
By Dan Dolan
Despite a resounding rejection from one local special taxing district, Miami-Dade officials are still eyeing community redevelopment cash to help fund a $500 million baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins in downtown Miami, two county commissioners revealed Tuesday.
Commissioners Jose "Pepe" Diaz and Joe Martinez said Miami city officials and county staffers are considering using tax revenue generated by a Community Redevelopment Agency to pay for a new ballpark across the street from the Stephen P. Clark Center on Northwest Third Street.
"Creating a stadium CRA is still in negotiation," said Mr. Diaz, the Miami-Dade commission's representative in talks with the Marlins and Major League Baseball. "I don't know any details, so I can't really talk about it. This is a work in progress."
Miami Mayor Manny Diaz also was tightlipped on the issue this week. He triggered a firestorm in January with a proposal to apply Overtown Community Redevelopment Agency funds to a stadium project.
But the agency's board of directors said the money would be better-spent building housing for low-income families in Overtown and slapped down Mayor Diaz' plan. Now, the board, composed of the Miami City Commission, intends to formalize its opposition to Mr. Diaz' proposal during its next meeting, City Commissioner Tom?s Regalado said.
Any attempt to use community development money for a stadium could put the Northwest Third Street site proposal in jeopardy.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson and Mr. Martinez have indicated they'll oppose building a stadium downtown if community redevelopment agency funds are part of the mix.
"It's been discussed that some CRA money is — or was — being considered to bridge the financing gap," Mr. Martinez said. "It's one thing to use bed taxes and tourist money for a stadium. It's another to use money that can actually help people by providing social services."
In a special report on the stadium proposal issued Tuesday, County Manager George Burgess did not mention using community development funds to pay for a $490 million project on 9 acres owned by the county and the city. The tracts are valued at $9 million, not figured into the stadium's price tag.
Mr. Burgess said the county's $145 million construction contribution would come from tourist taxes. If a stadium is built, he said, the county could cover its cost by tapping taxes generated by new development in the neighborhood.
The City of Miami would kick in $108 million using tourist taxes and funds once earmarked for Miami Arena, he said. The Marlins would have to cough up $45 million and would pay the county $162 million in rent that would cover bonds issued to finance the building. The Marlins would pick up the tab for any cost overruns, he said.
Even with those revenue streams in place, Mr. Burgess said, organizers are still $30 million short. He said the shortfall would have to be covered by the state in the form of a tax break.
Pepe Diaz said he will introduce legislation formally requesting a state tax break at next week's county commission meeting. He said he also will present updated plans for a 37,000-seat stadium.
"My resolution will tell the state we have one site that's the result of hard negotiations," the commissioner said. "We'll tell them the county staff, the City of Miami, the Marlins and Major League Baseball are all on board. I know some of my colleagues who don't know all the details have some reservations. I respect that. But all the details will be made clear in an open forum. I'm hoping they'll support the plan."
That may be easier said than done. Mr. Martinez said Mr. Burgess' report only deepened his doubt about the Northwest Third Street location. He said the parcel is too small to hold a stadium — and bringing fans downtown would increase the city's traffic nightmares.
"I want to make it clear that I support keeping the Marlins here. I just don't like the site," Mr. Martinez said. "We're going to have to take away streets to build this thing.
"And if that's not bad enough, where are we going to get the parking? We still don't have parking for the performing-arts center, so how are we going to fit baseball in, too?"
Mr. Burgess insists parking wouldn't be an issue. His report said Miami has 5,200 parking spaces within three-fourths of a mile of the site. The county owns another 2,000 parking spaces in the neighborhood and is planning to add 580 more, he said.
That should be enough to handle fan parking because baseball normally won't compete with daytime business traffic, Mr. Burgess said. He also said the site's rail link will encourage fans to use mass transit.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said he's fully committed to the Northwest Third Street site. He said he believes there is enough parking. But he said he is reserving final judgment until funding issues are worked out.
Once a deal is signed, Mr. Burgess said, the county and the city wouldn't be able to back out without paying the Marlins a substantial financial penalty. He said the proposal and all revenue sources must be rock-solid before a project is approved by the Miami City Commission and the Miami-Dade County commission.
County Commission Chairman Bruno Barreiro said money shouldn't be an issue. He said tourist taxes will generate enough cash to cover costs.
"I don't think we're going to need CRA money to get this done," Mr. Barreiro said. "Our revenues should be sufficient without it."
Mr. Burgess said construction of a retractable-roof stadium could begin in May 2008 and the stadium could be ready for use in April 2011. He said he expects a new stadium would draw about 2 million fans a year.
Marlins attendance hasn't been that high since the team drew 2.36 million in 1997, the year it won its first World Series championship.