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Deal signed to sell Miami Arena

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Sopher signs deal to buy arena

The Florida Marlins are one step closer to getting a new stadium after parking magnate Hank Sopher signed a contract on Monday to buy the Miami Arena for $25 million.

BY OSCAR CORRAL

[email protected]

Parking magnate Hank Sopher signed a contract Monday to buy the Miami Arena for $25 million, fulfilling an integral part of the complex deal to finance a new stadium for the Florida Marlins, said city officials and a Realtor involved in the deal.

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz said the signed contract was a good step forward.

''I'm very pleased,'' he said. ``I think this is something that is important for the city, the county. There is a lot of money tied up in that property and it makes no sense to keep putting good money after bad.''

The Sopher contract doesn't mean that it's a done deal, Diaz said. The executive director of the city's Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority must first sign off on the offer. After that, the authority has 85 days to seek a higher bid, Diaz said.

High-powered Realtor Edie Laquer, who represented Sopher in the negotiations, said the city's sports authority had given him a Monday deadline to sign the contract. She said Sopher has no immediate plans for the arena. However, he reportedly has floated the idea of turning it into a high-end shopping mall.

''We were able to get through some minor modifications, and it's signed today in its final form,'' Laquer said. ``We have turned it into the city.''

Laquer said the arena would be Sopher's in the end.

''Hank can match any price set forth,'' Laquer said. ``In my opinion, he will be the last man standing.''

For years, Miami leaders have considered the idea of selling or demolishing the arena because they say it has become obsolete.

Miami officials have found a better use for the $6 million in tourism bed-tax money that Miami-Dade County provides every year to pay off the bonds that built the arena -- helping finance a new baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins.

Diaz last month brokered the offer from Sopher, a big downtown property owner. Diaz said then that proceeds of the sale would help pay down the $34 million still owed bondholders on the arena, with the balance to be paid by tax money already committed for upkeep.

Without the sale of the arena, the deal recently announced to finance a new Marlins stadium near the Orange Bowl may crumble.

Laquer said Sopher was well aware that a new Marlins stadium partially hinged on his purchase of the arena.

''Hank recognizes indirectly that this possession of this asset definitely plays into enhancing the possibility of the Marlins stadium becoming a reality,'' Laquer said.

She said Sopher hopes to one day redevelop the site in a positive way.

''If anyone has the vision to turn what has been cast as a white elephant into a feasible redevelopment on that site, it's definitely Hank Sopher,'' she said. ``It's been very fulfilling today for all parties concerned.''

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It looks similar to the Orlando Arena. A basic hat-box, but it's pink. It's just north of Downtown in the Overtown section. The Miami Heat and Panthers both played there in years past, but it's basically empty now.

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That's great for the Marlins. I am sure that the Dolphins are happy because playing football on clay is not fun, if they do that anymore. The marlins are going to be really happy.

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