Opening day score at Marlins Park: public loses shutout
By Michael Lewis
If public benefit from our $3 billion outlay for Marlins stadium is scored like baseball, it's a shutout loss.
Team owners, meanwhile, have won big in the place they hold dear, their wallet. Our gift was a grand slam.
The shutout goes far beyond the shame that the Marlins get every penny from the county-owned stadium and that they've counted in their required construction share such outlandish items as wine and ticket-selling costs.
The score is equally ugly when we assess the public's non-monetary benefit for our gift of future taxes. Everything vital to fulfilling promises of three years ago is in slow motion. It's like opening day surprised us.
The Marlins don't care. They got our $3 billion. Asked for $20,000 for area residents' parking, they told the city to take a hike. If it isn't in a contract, it's not going to hit the Marlins in their checkbook.
Let's take stadium promises one by one, inning by inning.
First inning: The Marlins and Major League Baseball pledged that long before opening day, a baseball academy in Hialeah would train local teens. It's still raw land. Score for the public, zero.
Second inning: The stadium was to turn its part of Little Havana into an entertainment zone. So far, the entertainment has been residents' outcries that they've lost their parking and that the area, far from being revitalized, has declined. Another zero.
Third inning: New retail would be a plus. So far, it's limited to six mostly vacant storefronts in stadium garages. Zero.
Fourth inning: Parking was to be amply. But it was built for season ticketholders only. Since the Marlins didn't sell many season tickets, they'll rent up to 1,800 garage spaces at $15 — 50% higher than Sun Life Stadium rates in 2011.
Over the past weekend they belatedly added 3,000 spaces, some more than 2 miles from the ballpark, serviced by shuttles and trolleys. That parking at Walgreens and SunTrust costs up to $33.
The largest of the 14 jerry-rigged parking sites is a deal at Magic City Casino for 500 spaces. Given baseball's ban on any link to gambling, did they clear that with the commissioner's office? Another zero.
Fifth inning: Tickets, we were told, would be accessible. But they average 50% more than 2011, even though the team last year paid a huge slice of revenue to a stadium owner and now pays a flat $2.3 million.
That $2.3 million is less than one-tenth of one percent of stadium taxpayer cost. Over 40 years, Marlins rent will repay a total of 4% of that tax outlay. Nowhere does a landlord charge so little.
The Marlins used to sell four tickets, four hotdogs, four sodas and two programs for $54. Including parking, a family could see a game for $65. Today, it's double for the worst seats. Another zero.
Sixth inning: Mass transit was to help. But Miami-Dade can't fund game shuttles from Metrorail. Without them, fans must walk a mile through unfamiliar, uninviting areas. The fund gap: $234,500 that nobody budgeted. Another zero.
Seventh inning: City of Miami rubber-tire trolleys would go to the park. This is the only stadium-related promise being kept, but it's minuscule for a 37,000-seat stadium that's called world class. Give the city A for effort, but it's still just a fly out. Zero.
Eighth inning: The stadium would have four-star white tablecloth dining. If so, it's for the team owner's private luxury suite. Zero.
Ninth inning: The stadium would burnish Miami's reputation. Instead, the US Securities and Exchange Commission is probing how the deal was made and whether buyers of stadium and parking bonds were misled. If baseball had a minus score, this would be it.
Bottom line: the public gets zero from its spending, and baseball in Miami is altered from the National Pastime to a retreat for the well-to-do.
Capitalizing on that shift, the Mandarin Oriental on Brickell Key launched an I Love Marlins hassle-free package. Hotel guests for two nights double occupancy are chauffeured to and from the park, see a game and get Marlins caps, jerseys and spa treatments. Cost: $2,450 and up.
The good news for the rest of us is that by mid-summer, when allure of a new stadium dims, attendance may dip back to the Marlins' old bottom-of-league rank, parking demand and traffic taper off and tickets be scalped at half price.
With patience, the working man could actually see a ballgame. Until then, unfortunately, he's shut out.
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