Marlins keep hope alive with March return to city hall
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
The Marlins are getting another turn at bat in their bid to gain several hundred million dollars in public funding for a new stadium.
That will come March 12, when Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones returns from maternity leave and presumably will supply the third vote needed to gain city approval of a stadium deal with the Marlins. A city OK would keep the deal alive long enough to trigger a Miami-Dade County Commission vote.
Two key parts of the deal must receive a super majority — nine votes — from the county commission because of the no-bid nature of the stadium construction and operating contract.
Some stadium critics and supporters expected plans to build a retractable-roof, 37,000-seat stadium in Little Havana for the Florida Marlins to fly through City Hall last Friday before the unexpected deadlock.
Now, the deal could have a better chance at passing in the city with the return of Ms. Spence-Jones.
But the necessary four-fifths vote to waive the bidding process allowing appointed stadium builder Hunt/Moss to do all surrounding infrastructure work is unlikely to pass. Commissioners Marc Sarnoff and Tomás Regalado objected to the bid waiver and said this week they will not change their minds on the issue.
At the hearing Friday, others called for the work to be bid out.
Truly Burton, government affairs director of the Builders Association of South Florida, said the organization supports building the stadium as long as all the work is bid out competitively and jobs are drawn from the local labor pool.
After several hours of discussion in front of a full house at City Hall, Mr. Sarnoff threw his curveball to the baseball team. He asked for on-the-spot changes. The team would not swing.
Commissioners Angel Gonzalez and Joe Sanchez voted in favor and Tomás Regalado and Mr. Sarnoff against the proposed stadium.
Mr. Sarnoff said he wanted the ballclub to put more on the table: pay cost overruns of building the parking facilities estimated at $94 million, have the city and county get 100% of any naming rights revenues and let the county and city have a pro-rata share in profits above a $270 million threshold price if the team is sold.
But Marlins President David Samson refused the changes, saying the commission had already approved the deal a year ago.
"You and the rest of the commissioners agreed to a baseball agreement containing the exact same provisions contained in the item before you," he said, though conceding some changes had taken place since. He said the changes made the deal "better from the public standpoint."
Mr. Samson said the city could cap parking costs at $94 million by building only the number of spaces that $94 million would cover.
He also said no to sharing naming rights revenues with the two governments or to modifying profit terms for selling the team without opening the whole agreement for renegotiation.
"I would be happy to re-open the entire document," he said.
Following that statement, he brought back the threat of the Marlins leaving Miami.
"The agreement by the team not to seek relocation during these negotiations and from this day forward will again be open for re-negotiation," he said.
The team has courted other cities in the past but has continued its quest for a stadium in its hometown where exposure is big — Miami ranks as a Top 20 television market.
Mr. Sarnoff's reply to the threat was to let him re-open negotiations and move to San Antonio or Las Vegas, but "I think they would pay him to stay," he said in an interview Monday.
"This is not the same environment it was when these negotiations began. There was more wealth in America," he said.
Mr. Sarnoff said he is sure Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria plans to "flip" the team by selling after a stadium that enhances its value is approved and wants to ensure the city and county share in the profits, having contributed significantly to the enhanced value.
For now, the team hopes to play the next three seasons at Dolphin Stadium. But Mr. Samson said in recent broadcast interview that with the team's lease expiring before the 2011 season begins, the Marlins are at the mercy of new Dolphins owner Stephen Ross's rent terms.
The team says it still plans to get the five stadium agreements — construction, operating, city parking, assurance and non-relocation — approved in order to move forward with ballpark construction for opening day 2012. .
Costs to taxpayers include $347.5 million from the county and $13.5 million from the city toward stadium construction, at least $94 million from the city for parking, about $10 million from each government toward infrastructure, up to $3.5 million from the localities toward green certification, and to-be-determined payments on planned debt issuances.
The county is to front $35 million of the team's $154 million construction contribution, to be repaid annually in rent.
Friday's salvaging of the deal came after two recesses of about an hour each in which City Manager Pete Hernandez played mediator to the ballclub and city commissioners. Eventually, it became obvious the county commission wouldn't get its afternoon date with the Marlins.
At County Hall, commissioners in their offices watched events unfold in front of TV screens and a crowd of stadium supporters and opponents — many of whom had left City Hall early to get their chance to speak at the county — waited.
Meanwhile, at City Hall city commission Chairman Sanchez did a slow burn. After returning from the second hour-long break, he said he was alarmed at how the highly-awaited meeting had proceeded, referring to Mr. Sarnoff's demands.
"I am appalled at how we have handled this because we've had an opportunity to meet with the administration and the Marlins to negotiate in good faith," said Mr. Sanchez, who supports the stadium, slated to rise in his district.
But Mr. Sarnoff in an interview Monday defended his actions. "No one had information as to how much tax money was out there," he said, adding he received the information Friday morning before stepping on the dais.
The documents revealed the deal had escalated to a projected $1.9 billion once financing costs were tallied. Mr. Sarnoff said he was concerned about the county's ability to cover bond costs in the event tourism tax receipts continue to drop in a weak economy.
With the discussion stagnant, Mr. Sanchez made the call to continue the meeting after absent Commissioner Spence-Jones comes back to work.
Marlins officials did not return calls for an interview.
According to an MLB.com report, Mr. Samson said Saturday he is still confident the stadium can open on budget by opening day 2012.