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MLB helps revive push for new Marlins ballpark

1/15/2007 - MLB Florida Marlins

MIAMI -- The Florida Marlins have remained on the sideline
during baseball's winter spending spree, a tight budget preventing
them from addressing roster deficiencies that spoiled their
surprising bid for a playoff berth in 2006.

"Everyone is working very hard to get this realized. The hope is that we can get all the planets and sun and moon aligned and get this to fruition."
-- Bob DuPuy, COO of Major League Baseball

Yet this could be the Marlins' best offseason ever. The
franchise's long campaign for a new ballpark has gained new
momentum in recent weeks, and while funding hurdles remain,
officials with the commissioner's office and local government say
an agreement may finally be near.

"We've gone further than we've ever gone," Mayor Manny Diaz
said. "I've always been optimistic that when you have willing
parties sitting at the table, you can get a deal done."

Stadium projects in the last year for the Yankees, Mets,
Nationals, Athletics and Twins have left the Marlins as the last
team seeking a new home.

The proposed site -- the latest in a series considered by the
Marlins -- is downtown a mile inland from Biscayne Bay near
Interstate 95. The ballpark would include a retractable roof, and
the cost could be $500 million or more.

Major League Baseball officials helped revive negotiations in
recent months by taking a bigger role. Their top offseason priority
is a new Marlins ballpark, said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief
operating officer.

"Everyone is working very hard to get this realized," DuPuy
said. "The hope is that we can get all the planets and sun and
moon aligned and get this to fruition."

Nineteen major league teams have moved into new stadiums since
1989.

"There's a recognition a ballpark will not only ensure that the
Marlins will continue to play in the Miami area for generations to
come, but provide all of the community development opportunities
that have happened in so many other locations," DuPuy said.

The Marlins, who declined to comment, have sought public money
for a baseball-only home with a roof since their first season in
1993. Founding owner H. Wayne Huizenga and his successor, John
Henry, sold the team in frustration after failing to reach a deal.

A year ago, current owner Jeffrey Loria investigated relocation
and had a brief courtship with San Antonio. Loria also pared his
payroll to the lowest in the majors, and the Marlins finished last
in attendance in 2006 despite an exciting young team.

Financing has always been the biggest obstacle to a new stadium
in South Florida. Last May, the franchise failed for the fifth time
in six years to secure a subsidy from the Florida Legislature, and
Diaz said state money must be part of the latest proposal.

New Gov. Charlie Crist said he favors using state money.

"I view it as an economic development issue," Crist said.
"It's not just the players that benefit from having major league
baseball in the community. People who sell hot dogs benefit, people
who do parking benefit, and it's a point of pride for many of our
communities.

"I think it's very important that we embrace Major League Baseball. ... And I think there is a role for state government in
that regard."

The proposed ballpark deal would also require approval from the
city council and Miami-Dade County supervisors, because the city
and county have agreed to help the Marlins pay for the project.

It's unknown how much state money will be needed, because costs
at the downtown site are still being studied. The nine-acre plot,
now mostly parking lots, is owned by the city and county.

"There's going to be a funding gap" that state money would
fill, county tax collector Ian Yorty said. "We know that. We've
always had one. But we're not going to know what it is until we see
what the revised budget figures are."

More than a year ago, when the Marlins considered a site next to
the Orange Bowl, the projected cost was $420 million. A landfill
site in suburban Hialeah remains a possibility, but the recent
focus has been on downtown.

Local officials want a deal in place before they approach the
Legislature for money, Diaz said. This year's session is scheduled
to conclude May 4.

"Everybody wants to see this get done," Diaz said.