Stadium's ready for 'Play Ball,' but beware of wild cards
By Michael Lewis
Physically, the county's Miami Marlins stadium looks ready for its first game three weeks off. It might even open under budget.
So, other than $3 billion that taxpayers must keep paying for decades, we should be happy. For our money we got the team to label itself "Miami" and promise not to skip town. Those seemed to be government's only aims, and they've been met.
Still, even beyond making sure we have $3 billion in hand as bills come due since the Marlins keep every cent from the stadium, nagging loose ends make our ballpark joy less than complete.
Of most immediate concern is actually getting there.
Though it cut the deal in 2009, the county has yet to add an inch of transit or bulk up old routes. It's still awaiting an OK for a grant to fund game-time shuttles from Metrorail a mile away.
City of Miami rubber-tire trolleys to the ballpark are also in limbo. Though the city already has six trolleys and expects more, it has yet to start the free service anywhere.
In a community that lives in cars, a mass transit shortage would be less painful were there adequate stadium parking. But it wasn't planned.
More than 5,000 spaces the City of Miami built at the ballpark are reserved for season ticketholders and 250 free for the team. The Marlins aim for others to park in neighbors' driveways and yards.
If the Marlins actually fill 37,000 seats and offer a hair more than 5,000 spaces to the public, others must walk or bicycle to the park, use mass transit we've yet to provide or scout Little Havana for backyard spaces.
That might be Major League baseball, but it's bush league transportation.
Other than getting to the park, we're still not sure what we'll pay. Individual tickets for regular season games aren't yet on sale. Today, you have to buy 10 games or more.
The first two games there are March 6 against the University of Miami, with all 10,000 tickets sold very early, and March 7 against FIU.
But big league teams show up April 4, and those prices remain a mystery. We get a hint from April exhibitions with the New York Yankees: tickets range from $235 down to $15 for the worst seat, up from a former $9 minimum for Major League games.
Also a mystery is how, if at all, the ballpark will alter its neighborhood. While the stadium was forecast to generate an entertainment district, nothing is changed. Even the city's four garages, with 53,000 square feet of retail outside the park, haven't a single tenant.
Lime Fresh Mexican Grill sent a letter of intent for a garage site, perhaps opening in April, but nothing is final almost three years after the city knew it needed tenants to help fund its garages.
Meanwhile, inside the ballpark the Marlins had promised top-end dining. It hasn't been announced.
Another promised stadium impact is also nil. The team and Major League Baseball had pledged $3.2 million to build an urban youth baseball center in Hialeah, but nothing stands there after three years but scrubland.
As this has gone on, the Marlins have spent $38 million on the ballpark. That, at least, is what they've told the county.
Their expense list includes more than $1 million legal fees to one firm, the phone bills for their ticket sales office, cable TV service, $5,000 monthly car and travel allowances, the salaries of their office staff and more eyebrow-raisers.
Thankfully, the county says it will dispute some of the team's charges.
One cloud over the ballpark from which even its retractable roof might not protect it is a US Securities and Exchange Commission probe of how the stadium deal came to be in the first place.
We're unlikely to see results of that probe this year, maybe not next. It's just a black cloud over the stadium and the officials who cut the deal.
None of this should detract from enjoyment of games there, if you can afford tickets and find a convenient way to arrive. It looks like a fine structure, and team owners have contracted for tens of millions extra on salaries, raising suspicions about salting the mine for a franchise sale but meanwhile promising excellent baseball.
Enjoy your $3 billion investment, if you can.
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