'Canes' move out of Orange Bowl enhances possibilities for Marlins
By Risa Polansky
With the University of Miami Hurricanes officially out of the Orange Bowl by this football season's end, the City of Miami is free to pursue the Florida Marlins as a tenant for the site.
Both city and Miami-Dade County officials have said in recent weeks that the university's indecision about its future in its city-owned home of 70-plus years was impeding plans with Major League Baseball to get the Marlins to Miami.
The Hurricanes are to join the Marlins and the Miami Dolphins at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens next year, UM announced Tuesday — and by then, city officials hope to be moving full-speed ahead with plans for the Orange Bowl site, namely to get the baseball team into a retractable-roof stadium there.
"Politically, we have a lot of support for the Orange Bowl" as the future home of a Major League Baseball stadium, said City Manager Pete Hernandez, citing past "unanimous support" from both the city and county commissioners.
County Commission Chairman Bruno Barreiro expressed continued support in a statement issued by the county Tuesday.
"It's a new day for the Hurricanes, Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami," he said. "I'm looking forward to sitting down with all of the parties involved to discuss the possibility of building a new baseball stadium at the Orange Bowl site."
The first step will be to explore demolition of the old stadium on the 40-acre site, Mr. Hernandez said. The city is to commission a site study to ensure there's sufficient parking for baseball.
The Marlins have not committed to a move and would prefer a downtown home, Ian Yorty, who handles baseball negotiations for Miami-Dade County along with the county manager, said last week. However, he said, "they recognize that it (the Orange Bowl) is a viable site."
The Marlins' lease at Dolphin Stadium is to expire in 2010.
A statement issued by the franchise did not indicate the likelihood of a move to the Orange Bowl site but did say that the "urgency" to find an appropriate spot for a retractable-roof, baseball-specific facility "has been further crystallized by today's decision by the University of Miami" to leave the Orange Bowl.
Marlins officials declined to elaborate.
Had the school decided to stay, city officials planned to completely renovate the stadium, adding club seats, new scoreboards and additional restrooms among other amenities.
But the plan would have cost about $206 million, the bulk of which remained speculative.
In addition to the allotted $50 million from the county's general obligation bond toward Orange Bowl renovations, the plan was to fund the rest largely through historic tax credits and stadium revenue bonds.
The university did not doubt the city's ability to pin down the funds, said UM Athletic Director Paul Dee at a press conference Tuesday, but questioned "whether it would be enough.
"At the end of the day, these plans in place would have been a tremendous expense to taxpayer revenue," he said.
The university's choice to leave, he said, centered on doing what was best for the team and its fans.
Now that a UM-tailored revamp has been nixed, city and county commissioners most likely will need to reconsider allocation of the $50 million in earmarked bond money, Mr. Hernandez said — including possible funding of the city's share of a new stadium for the Marlins.
Consulting firm Jones Lang LaSalle, hired to design the Orange Bowl renovation, may switch gears to help with demolition strategy and site development, Mr. Hernandez said.
The company has not received direction from the city since the university announced its move, said John Paccione, managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle Americas.
"There were no contingency plans in the event that the Hurricanes left," he said. "We'd certainly be very comfortable with whatever the city wants to do. Whatever is asked of us, we'll gladly oblige."
Besides drafting proposals for the Hurricanes' use of the property, Mr. Hernandez said, the consulting firm helped the city "get a good sense of what works, what doesn't work."
Despite having already spent funds on stadium renovation plans — commissioners voted last year to allot up to $6.5 million to the consulting firm — and releasing the university from its Orange Bowl lease a year early, the city does not plan to seek compensation from UM for expenses, Mr. Hernandez said.
"Our efforts, hopefully, also will have some value in considering the other potential uses for the Orange Bowl property," he said.
County commissioners voted in March on broad parameters for a construction deal with the Marlins and Major League Baseball.
The terms included $145 million from the county, $108 million from the city and $30 million in special tax breaks from the state. The Marlins would contribute $45 million in cash and pay $162 million in rent to cover bonds issued to finance construction.
While conversation at the time centered on a downtown site, Mr. Hernandez said "it would be the same plan."
Regardless of what happens on the site, Mr. Hernandez said, the city intends to keep the Orange Bowl name.
"I think we would like to retain it. I would like to have the opportunity to call it the New Orange Bowl" or tack "at the Orange Bowl" to the name of whatever ends up on the site, he said.
That means the name may be off the table for Dolphin Stadium, where officials hope to find either a neutral name or corporate name sponsor by 2010, according to a University of Miami press release.