The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Stadium deadline pushed back yet again

Despite Marlins' President David Samson's repeated statements that financing for a new ballpark must be in place by March 15th... wait, let's make that May 1st. Yes, for sure May 1st. It has to be by May 1st otherwise the current ownership will no longer be able to sustain the losses they are currently incurring ($17 million last year, despite the World Series run if you believe the Marlins statements, $11.6 million last year if you believe Forbes). The Orange Bowl location is not acceptable... the Orange Bowl site is the Marlins preferred site.

Well today it comes out that Samson is pushing the deadline back, yet again to May 6th. A handful of extra days is not a big deal, granted. What is a big deal is that the Marlins are pushing back the deadline but even if they work something out with the city by May 6th, they will still be more than $50 million short of the money needed to finance their $325 million retractable roof stadium. This brings up so many issues that I'm not even sure where to start.

To date the Marlins have agreed to throw in $137 million. The county (Miami-Dade) has agreed to chip in with $73 million, which will come from bed tax money (so thank you to those of you who rent hotel rooms on South Beach). That brings the total to $210 million, or $115 short of what's needed. As you probably already heard, the state legislature has thus far refused to give the team an additional $60 million (over 30 years) in the form of tax rebates.

In today's Miami Herald article, it is intimated that the city might sell the Miami Arena (former home to the Heat and Panthers before it was superceded by the American Airlines Arena and Office Depot Center - both publicly financed) to a local parking lot magnate. Somehow the $25 million in proceeds that this sale is expected to generate are already ear-marked, at least in some people's eyes for financing the baseball stadium. The county also funds about $6 million annually right now for the stadium and this money too might be headed to the new ballpark.

While I would probably use the stadium as much as anyone, I am opposed to publicly financing this stadium - even if it does use bed tax money and other such sources and does not cause new taxes to be levied or existing taxes to be raised. It simply doesn't make sense for the city of Miami or Miami-Dade county. Miami is the poorest major metropolitan area in the United States. Mr. Loria feels that stadiums have been publicly financed in other cities, so it should be done in Miami for the Marlins as well. He's right - other cities have come up with the cash or tax benefits for baseball (and other stadiums) recently. Miami (and Ft. Lauderdale/Broward County) have already done this. Less than 20 years ago the Miami Arena was built. Although the city is still paying for it, it is rarely used. Occassionally a second rate circus comes to town or a minor league hockey team tries to make a go of it, but so far nothing has really lasted. American Airlines Arena was built less than five years ago for the Miami Heat just down the street from the Miami Arena. From the AAA's concourse you can see the Miami Arena. The Florida Panthers also play in a publicly financed stadium across town that is about five years old. The City of Miami also owns the Orange Bowl (no, not where they play the annual Orange Bowl, but the stadium where those games used to take place). The OB is used about six times per year by the Miami Hurricanes and a few other times for soccer and concerts. Since the Miami Arena is sucking up funds to the tune of $6 million annually in maintenance and upkeep, I would expect that the Orange Bowl costs at least as much in that it is larger (more than triple the seating capacity), outside, and older.

What I have not seen discussed so far is how cost overruns will be handled. The Marlins have repeatedly insisted (almost as often as they have said that their deadlines are firm) that a 38,000 retractable roof stadium will cost $325 million. Almost everyone else - public officials, others who have built such stadiums - feel that such a stadium would cost more in the neighborhood of $500 million. Since they're having such a hard time coming up with the first $300 or so million, hopefully the overruns will be worked out in advance. Somehow though I suspect I will be funding my share of this through increased tolls or a new tax or that you will be paying it for me when you go and stay in one of our lovely oceanfront hotel rooms. :-)

As long as I'm in Miami I hope the Marlins stay here because I am a fan of major league baseball. I really enjoy being able to go out to the ballpark, watch a competitive team, and see the stars of the league when they come to town. But still, part of me is curious to see what the "or else" that the Marlins are softly threatening with their financing deadlines. I'm not quite sure what the or else could be. The Montreal Expos have been actively looking to move for two years now. There aren't any real suitors. The most logical option is not even under consideration - to move a team or two to the metro New York City area, because doing so would put a big, but needed, damper on the Yankees revenue streams. What are the Marlins going to do if they don't receive a new stadium?

The Marlins have won two World Series titles in eleven years, all while playing at Pro Player/Joe Robbie Stadium. Granted, it is not the most fan friendly, appealing, or otherwise pleasant baseball stadium, but it is functional. The biggest problem for the Marlins is that, because of their lease, they are not able to generate the revenues that other clubs can (a big portion of their parking, concession, ticket, and other revenue goes to Wayne Huizenga and his company that owns/operates the stadium). Maybe if financing for a new ballpark doesn't work out, the Marlins can go after current Red Sox and former Marlins/Yankees owner John Henry (or whomever negotiated this deal) for negligence in regards to the terms he agreed to for the team's current stadium lease.

But this brings up another issue with the Marlins plans for a new stadium. We collectively, whoever the taxpayers are that fund this stadium, are going to throw $200 - $400 million dollars (net of the Marlins contribution) in for this stadium. Sure, some of the money will be in tax incentives and other things that won't directly come out of anyone's pocket, but if this money wasn't given to the Marlins, other taxes wouldn't need to be levied on the rest of us. In the end though, after the Marlins get this stadium, they think they'll be able to afford a $50 - $55 million payroll (in today's dollars). This year that would mean the Marlins could afford what they have on the field. No more, no less. We'll continue to lose the Derrek Lee's of the world when they hit free agency, and let's not even talk about being in the mix to hold onto a Pudge Rodriguez or being able to make a run after a Vladimir Guerrero. Other teams who have had stadiums financed have been able to put more into the product they put on the field (yes, I know the Marlins won the World Series last year so they were at least competitive, but this is also a club that's had two winning seasons out of eleven) and not just to cut their losses which is what the Marlins ownership is trying to accomplish here. Maybe what the Marlins need more than a new stadium is some owners with deeper pockets.

I guess we'll all just have to wait and see.


Post a Comment

<< Home