Miami delays decision on new stadium

Updated: February 13, 2009, 7:35 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- The Florida Marlins encountered another curveball Friday in their bid for a new ballpark.

City commissioners met for 7 hours without reaching a final decision on a plan to build a 37,000-seat stadium near downtown. They agreed to take up the issue again March 12.

The Miami-Dade County Commission was on deck to consider the proposal but never met. The Marlins had hoped for final approval of plans calling for a stadium projected to open in 2012 and cost $515 million, with the public paying $361 million.

City commissioners voted 2-2 on the plan, with one member absent and three votes required for approval. They were on the verge of adjournment, which likely would have killed the deal, but after a recess agreed to resume discussions next month.

"We are not angry. We are not bitter," Marlins president David Samson said. "We are trying to figure out the best way to have a deal that makes sense for the city, county and team, and we'll continue to work toward that."

The Marlins have sought a new home for more than a decade. Since their first game in 1993, the team has shared the NFL Miami Dolphins' home in suburban Miami.

The new ballpark would be located on the site of the demolished Orange Bowl. Plans call for a retractable roof, which the attendance-challenged Marlins said would help draw more fans.

Critics of the plan said taxpayers shouldn't foot such a large bill for a baseball team, especially given the sour economy.

The project included a $94 million parking complex, bringing the total cost to $609 million. Bed taxes would finance most of the construction, with the Marlins paying $119 million. By one estimate, repaying the debt on loans for the project could have cost the county $1.8 billion over 40 years.

"You are using public money to enhance a private franchise," commissioner Marc Sarnoff said. "It's not your job and my job as taxpayers to try and make a private venture more profitable."

Sarnoff voted against the plan, then offered amendments favorable to the city dealing with the parking garage, naming rights and the potential sale of the team. In response to two amendments, Samson said the Marlins would consider them only if the entire proposal were reopened for negotiation.

After the meeting, Samson said the deal's not dead. Commission chairman Joe Sanchez, who voted for the plan, said delaying a final decision might save the project.

"This is the right thing to do," Sanchez said. "I think we need to regroup and give both sides an ample opportunity to work out an agreement of some kind."

Sarnoff also said he was willing to keep discussions going.

"I'm willing to discuss anything that makes sense for the taxpayers for the City of Miami," Sarnoff said. "And if that includes some degree of negotiation, sure I'm willing to do that."

The team has never been so close to winning approval for a new home, with the final hurdle being approval of contracts related to the stadium. The Marlins were rejected five times in six years seeking funding from the Florida Legislature, and the latest plan involves no state money.

Samson told a crush of reporters waiting outside the meeting that he was undeterred, insisting the team did not feel sandbagged by Sarnoff's last-minute proposals.

"I tell our fans who are watching, please, Spring Training starts tomorrow," he said. "I will be in Jupiter for that. We are going to continue working to make sure that this ballpark opens on time and on budget in 2012 and I assure you when that is no longer the case, you will hear it from me."

The city and county earlier agreed in principle to finance the project, and an architect submitted final design sketches, but grass-roots opposition became more vehement in recent weeks.

"You should have been spending a lot more time on other important issues, such as housing, such as jobs," said Greg Bush, speaking to the commission on behalf of the Urban Environment League. "People don't come here for baseball games, and I think it's real important that you get your economic minds together on this."

Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, was among those speaking in favor of the project.

"No one remembers their first visit to a convention center," DuPuy said. "But almost everyone remembers their first visit to a major league baseball game."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press