MLB Sets Deadline for Marlins Ballpark

Mon May 23, 2005 - Southeast Edition
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MIAMI (AP) Major League Baseball (MLB) told the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County that they have until June 9 to revise financing plans for a new Florida Marlins ballpark now that the state Legislature has refused to chip in.

The letter from MLB Chief Operating Officer Bob DuPuy to local government leaders also said baseball won’t issue a letter of credit to cover cost overruns on the project, and reiterated that the Marlins can’t stay in the open-air Dolphins Stadium for the team to have long-term success in South Florida.

The letter doesn’t say what the consequences are for missing the deadline, but team officials met in Las Vegas with Mayor Oscar Goodman five months ago, and Goodman is trying to lure a franchise to his city.

“The Marlins are one of the only teams currently expected to continue losing money through 2006,” the letter dated May 12 stated. “We must collectively provide [commissioner Bud Selig] with the Marlins’ path to financial stability.”

The two-time World Series winners want to build a $420 million, 38,000-seat retractable roof stadium next to the Orange Bowl near downtown Miami. The team insists that its proposed park would mean no more delays caused by Florida’s rainy summers, possibly leading to better attendance, increased revenue and a higher payroll.

The Marlins have played at Dolphins Stadium — formerly known as Pro Player Stadium — since their founding in 1993, but they have said they might move without a new ballpark.

City and county officials pledged $166 million toward the ballpark, and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria agreed to pay $192-million rent. A $32- million parking garage was expected to pay for itself, leaving a $30-million funding gap to be plugged by the state.

The Marlins lobbied lawmakers to get a $60-million tax rebate that would provide the money needed to complete the plan, but the state Senate refused to hear the measure before the Legislature’s session ended May 6.

DuPuy’s letter asked the team, city and county to report by June 9 on a completed financing plan and provide a “detailed critical path” for the project, which would include a construction timeline, land acquisition plans and other details.

The letter also mentioned three solutions to overcome the shortage: additional contributions by the team, city and county; holding a city- or county-wide referendum to raise more public funds; or trying to persuade the state to offer millions more dollars. Those options appear to be long shots.

The letter also discussed a $45-million gap in stadium funding, which differed from previous statements from politicians and the Marlins that they needed $30 million. The additional $15 million apparently comes from officials’ concerns that the cost of the property could surpass initial estimates.

Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess wrote in a memo that he wasn’t comfortable in recommending a referendum for the county to increase its contribution from tourism-based bed taxes.

“At this point, none of the parties have indicated a willingness to increase the level of their current contribution for the project,” Burgess wrote. He added that an alternative may be to “reduce the cost and scope of the project.”

Burgess also said that a $10-million cost overrun guarantee is key to the deal’s final approval. Burgess wrote that he was “not pleased to learn MLB appears unwilling” to provide the letter of credit.

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