MIAMI -- The Florida Marlins will soon have a home of their own.
The team on Monday cleared the last political hurdle in its decade-long quest to get its own ballpark in Miami when the Miami-Dade County commission voted to approve the multi-million dollar deal.
After a marathon 9½-hour meeting, the county's 13 commissioners capped off the team's push for a retractable-roof park that is expected to cost at least $515 million. The commission by a 9-4 vote approved the stadium agreement itself.
The vote came four days after Miami city commissioners approved the stadium, which will be built near downtown in the city's Little Havana neighborhood on the site of the demolished Orange Bowl. Construction is expected to begin this summer, with the stadium opening for the 2012 season.
"I'm slightly numb," Marlins owner Jeffery Loria said after the vote. "I just feel good for everybody involved. It's not about me. It's about what we do. I'm thrilled for everybody."
The team will be renamed the Miami Marlins when the stadium opens.
"There's a lot of hard work still to do, but the fun part starts now," said baseball's chief operating officer Bob DuPuy, who during the debate asked the commissioners if they wanted Miami to become the "only major city in America without major league baseball."
The Marlins won the 1997 and 2003 World Series, but have never consistently drawn well at the stadium they share with the NFL's Miami Dolphins. The team blames South Florida's hot and rainy summers, but fans have also been frustrated by the team's history of trading its young stars like Josh Beckett and Miguel Cabrera once their salaries become expensive.
"We keep hearing 'If you build it they will come,'" Commissioner Katy Sorenson said. "I don't believe it. And this field of dreams is going to be a nightmare for our taxpayers."
Hotel bed taxes are meant to finance most of the construction, with the Marlins paying $119 million and repaying a $35 million loan from the county. Critics have said taxpayers shouldn't help foot such a large bill for a private enterprise, especially given the sour economy. An attempt to block the stadium in court failed last year.
"There's nothing wrong with saving until you can think of a better way to spend things," said Reginald Munnings, a 52-year-old resident of the area in which the stadium will be built. "The financial resources of this community should not be used to bail out this private company."
Team president David Samson has said he expects near-capacity crowds nightly the first year in the team's new home, and an annual attendance above 2 million for at least seven seasons. Last year, the Marlins ranked last in the majors in attendance at 1.34 million, or 16,688 per home game, and the team hopes more fans can lead to more payroll.
The Marlins have been last or next-to-last in the majors in payroll each of the past three years. In 2008, it was $27 million. The median in the big leagues was $86.5 million.
To secure the city's approval last week, the Marlins agreed to several requests, including a promise to employ local residents, to donate $500,000 to charity each year and to build community ballparks around the county.
Sketches for the stadium, which were released earlier this year, show it with a mostly white exterior, with windows beyond part of the outfield seats and palm trees lining the entrance.
"I'm approaching my second decade with the Marlins," team owner Jeffrey Loria reassured the commissioners. "I've already been involved with this team, your team, longer than any previous owner. And my commitment to this community, to you, to our team, is as rock solid as it's been from day one."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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