Lawmakers won't award state subsidy this year

Updated: April 20, 2004, 10:31 PM ET
Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd won't support a $60 million state subsidy the World Series champion Florida Marlins sought to help offset the planned costs of building a new ballpark.

Marlins could go fishing for new stadium
Although Florida's top state legislator said he wouldn't support public funding to help the Florida Marlins pay for their new stadium, Marlins president David Samson said he is still holding out hope.

"I really believe that we are close to a deal to keep the Marlins in South Florida," Samson said in a phone interview Tuesday. "There is technically still time left in the legislative session (which ends May 1)."

Samson said the Marlins need the funding now to meet the timetable that architect HOK established to have the new stadium ready to open in April 2007. It has to open by then, Samson reasoned, because the team could not hold back another year of projected losses under the current stadium situation. Despite winning the World Series, the Marlins lost about $20 million last season.

Last year, the Marlins estimated that more than 300,000 fans were kept away from games because of rain, a problem that could be alleviated by a retractable roof that would highlight new amenities of the proposed stadium.

"It's got to happen now or never, and it's not meant to be in a threatening way," Samson said. "People need to understand that the situation we have here just doesn't work without a new stadium."

Perhaps South Florida just can't support a baseball team. At least five cities are in the running to become the new home of the Montreal Expos. The Marlins potentially could relocate to a runner-up on that list, according to league sources who did not want to be identified.

"We are committed to having baseball succeed in South Florida and we will do everything we can to get a stadium in here because this franchise cannot survive without a new ballpark," Bob DuPuy, president and chief operating officer, told ESPN.com earlier this month. "If they are unable to get a new stadium, the fact that three ownership groups have tried and have been unsuccessful despite putting good teams on the field -- including winning two World Championships -- might suggest that it's time to look elsewhere."

-- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com

Byrd said his chamber won't be putting any money into next year's budget to help the Marlins, even though proponents say it would prove beneficial to the state's economic development goals.

"We support economic development on good projects," Byrd said. "I've had a chance to learn a little bit more about the Marlins issue, and I don't believe that's an appropriate way to invest taxpayer dollars."

The Marlins wanted $2 million annually over 30 years to help pay for their planned $325 million, 38,000-seat, retractable-roof stadium -- something they wanted to have ready in time for the 2007 season. Team officials said they needed the lawmaker support this year to ensure they met that goal.

"Our quest for state financing is far from over," Marlins president David Samson said. "There's 11 days left in the session and a lot of things can change in 11 days."

Samson said the team has chosen a site near the Orange Bowl to build a ballpark, and that he expected to present a final proposal to lawmakers in the coming days. He also reiterated that the team would cover any overruns.

The team has pledged $137 million toward the ballpark, and Miami-Dade County has committed $73 million -- but that leaves a gap of $115 million, and the Marlins set a deadline of May 1 to have stadium funding in place.

Gov. Jeb Bush, who supported the subsidy, acknowledged that part of the reason lawmakers declined to back the funding plan was because the Marlins have yet to decide where they'll build the new ballpark.

"I would hope the Marlins would get the same benefits as all the other professional sports teams in the state," Bush said. "But I understand that they started late in the game and not all of their proposal is finite."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press