Miami officials OK Marlins' new stadium, but some issues still unresolved

Updated: February 22, 2008, 3:19 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- The Florida Marlins finally have an agreement for the baseball-only ballpark they have coveted for nearly a decade.

Still, their long fight for a new home isn't quite over.

After lengthy and often-contentious debate, Miami-Dade County commissioners -- some grudgingly at first -- voted Thursday night to approve a basic plan for a $515 million retractable-roof stadium that would open in time for the 2011 season.

The first vote passed the county commission 9-3. About 25 minutes later, after amending some language, the county motioned to re-vote and approved the Baseball Stadium Agreement unanimously. City commissioners approved the BSA by a 4-1 vote several hours earlier.

"One of the longest-running hopes for a baseball stadium in the history of the game has finally ended, successfully," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said. "And I'm very happy to hear it was an unanimous vote at the end."

The 37,000-seat facility will be at the site of the Orange Bowl in Miami's Little Havana, a neighborhood long targeted for economic revitalization. The Orange Bowl -- the former home of University of Miami football -- was already scheduled for demolition and, although it wasn't the originally preferred site by MLB officials or the Marlins, proved to be one all involved parties could eventually agree upon.

But several issues, including the particularly thorny matter of deciding if city or county police and fire departments will be patrolling the new facility, remain unresolved. An agreement on the police-fire staffing front must be struck within 30 days or the plan -- and maybe the Marlins franchise -- would likely be doomed.

"This has to be resolved within 30 days ... so therefore, the inability to resolve this political issue kills baseball in South Florida," Major League Baseball president Bob DuPuy said. "That's the consequence."

Miami mayor Manny Diaz, though, sounded certain that all further roadblocks can be cleared.

"This is a binding agreement," Diaz said. "This is it. We have a deal. There will be baseball in Miami."

There's several other issues, most notably a a legal challenge filed by South Florida car dealer Norman Braman, who is trying to derail the plan and sent attorneys to Thursday's hearings urging commissioners to put the matter before voters.

Still, Thursday's passage was an enormous step forward for the two-time World Series champions.

"There's a lot of work to do," Miami-Dade county manager George Burgess said.

The county would pay $347 million in stadium construction costs, mostly from tourism taxes. The Marlins would pay $155 million, some through a $2.3 million annual rent bill, plus agree to buy 5,750 parking spots from the city for 35 seasons -- essentially paying off the garage-building cost.

All stadium revenues would go to the Marlins, who claim they lose millions annually, and the team would be renamed the Miami Marlins before the facility -- which includes the roof the team insisted upon, since threat of rain is a summertime constant in South Florida -- opens its gates.

It has been an epic process, filled with team-mandated deadlines that weren't met, five failed bids to obtain state funding for previous plans -- some were budgeted as low as $325 million -- and talks of moving the Marlins elsewhere, including Las Vegas and San Antonio.

One state lawmaker once likened talks with the Marlins as negotiating with "terrorists," a statement that was quickly recanted.

But, barring some last-minute surprise, a resolution is nearly inevitable.

"It will get done," Loria said.

The perceived rush to a vote -- commissioners have had the complicated 94-page agreement document for less than a week -- did not appease many opponents of the stadium plan, who urged officials to let residents decide the issue.

"Sometimes you have to trust the administration," Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Alvarez said as he urged county commissioners to approve the plan, and while the debate crept toward a sixth hour.

Others, including two attorneys representing Braman, questioned if some of the county's planned contribution represents a misuse of funds that were earmarked to remove blight around the county.

"Before you spend public money ... allow the people who put you in those chairs to vote on it," said attorney Harley Tropin.

Since the team's inaugural season in 1993, it has played at Dolphin Stadium, which is owned by Marlins founding owner H. Wayne Huizenga. The team's lease there expires after the 2010 season.

But the Marlins' current lease doesn't allow them to get much revenue out of that facility, so the team has purged higher-salary players in recent years. The Marlins haven't made the playoffs since winning the 2003 World Series and have had baseball's lowest average attendance in each of the past two seasons.

Soon, that'll likely change.

"We just finished the easy part," Marlins president David Samson said. "Now we have to go ahead and build the building. ... This is the day we've all been waiting for. This is the announcement of a new stadium for the Miami Marlins. That's what today was about."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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