MLB helps revive push for new Marlins ballpark
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.
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.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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