Team impatient as stadium issue drags on

Updated: December 10, 2004, 2:28 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- The Florida Marlins have met with Las Vegas officials about a possible move, saying that negotiations for a new stadium in Miami have lasted longer than the team anticipated.

Bruce Rubin, a spokesman for Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, said Thursday team officials met with Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and others for about 90 minutes Wednesday.

"These were social discussions, a get-to-know-each-other meeting," Rubin said. "Simply, Vegas wants a baseball team and the Marlins are a baseball team. It was decided that the two sides should get together."

He said the Marlins are negotiating with Miami city and Miami-Dade County officials over a proposal to build a 38,000-seat, retractable-roof ballpark next to the Orange Bowl. The Marlins currently play in Pro Player Stadium, which was built for the NFL's Miami Dolphins.

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz said the Marlins actions were "in very poor taste'' and a breach of trust because the city had been negotiating in good faith.

"Shocked, disturbed, disappointed, disgusted," Diaz said when asked for his reaction.

The Marlins say South Florida's wet and hot summers hurt attendance and that they need a roofed stadium if they are going to be competitive and financially viable. The Marlins have offered to pay $192 million of the projected $420 million price tag for a new stadium with taxpayers picking up the rest. One of the holdups is over who would pay for any cost overruns -- the team or taxpayers. The team had hoped to have a deal in place last May and then by October.

The Marlins were born in 1993 -- drawing more than 3 million fans their inaugural season -- and won the World Series in 1997 and 2003. Attendance plummeted after the 1994 players strike and the 1998 dismantling of the first championship team by founding owner Wayne Huizenga in a payroll purge. Attendance has rebounded somewhat in recent seasons, but is still among baseball's worst.

"The Marlins are committed to South Florida. Nobody wants to win another World Series more than Jeffrey Loria," Rubin said. "At the same time, Mr. Loria needs to examine all of his options."

He would not say whether the Marlins have met with other cities besides Las Vegas about a possible move.

Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess was not surprised the Marlins met with Las Vegas officials, but said a deal for a new ballpark in Miami is close.

"My feeling is that they genuinely want to stay in South Florida and if they genuinely want to, then I think there is a deal to be had," Burgess said.

Gov. Jeb Bush said he wasn't going to comment on the various ideas for financing a new stadium, but said: "I hope they stay in Miami, or South Florida." He opposed a previous plan that would have taxed cruise ship passengers to finance a Marlins stadium, but has supported a plan that would let the Marlins keep about $60 million in sales tax revenue the new stadium would generate.

Goodman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he has felt that teams used his city for negotiating leverage in the past. But he didn't think that's what the Marlins were doing. Goodman was planning to see Marlins officials again this weekend at the baseball winter meetings in Anaheim, Calif.

"I asked them if they were married, and if I should bring the showgirls along with me," Goodman told the newspaper.

The Montreal Expos' recently approved move to Washington will be baseball's first since after the 1971 season. Las Vegas was a finalist to receive the Expos.

Loria owned the Expos before selling them to the other 29 teams before the 2002 season. He then purchased the Marlins from John Henry, who headed the group that bought the Boston Red Sox.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press