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Dade offers a plan to help build stadium

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Dade offers a plan to help build stadium

A Miami-Dade proposal for a $325 million stadium would include funding from the county, the Marlins and others. The Orange Bowl site is an early front-runner.


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BANNER DAY: Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre, left, and pitcher Dontrelle Willis peform an impromptu dance and rap at Bayfront Park on Tuesday. WALTER MICHOT/HERALD STAFF

On the same day fans cheered the World Champion Florida Marlins with parades in two counties, Miami-Dade government officials provided another boost: a proposal to help the club build a new $325 million stadium.

The plan, unveiled Tuesday evening, would have the county contribute $73 million toward construction of a stadium, pending approval by the Miami-Dade County Commission at its upcoming meeting Tuesday.

That's almost guaranteed: The proposal was sponsored by seven commissioners, including Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler, enough to ensure its passage.

The money would come from the county's convention development tax and a professional sports franchise tax. Both get their funding from a tax on tourist hotels.

''That's all we have to pledge right now,'' said County Manager George Burgess, who will be leading the effort to develop a financing plan.

According to the proposal, the Marlins have agreed to contribute $137 million toward the stadium, which would have a retractable roof and room for 38,000 fans. No site has been formally proposed, though city officials are strongly considering the area around the Orange Bowl. Also up in the air: where the rest of the money, about $115 million, would come from.

Burgess, Marlins President David Samson and Vice Chairman Joel Mael, and Javier Soto, chief of staff for county Mayor Alex Penelas, met with individual county commissioners Tuesday afternoon.

The proposed deal was announced at a news conference Tuesday night by Penelas, Samson and Carey-Shuler.

Penelas praised the Marlins' pledge of $137 million, calling it ''an extraordinary commitment.'' Two years ago, in a failed bid for a stadium, the club's previous owner, John Henry, did not pledge any money.

''They just won a World Series,'' Penelas said. ``They don't have to put their money on the table now. They could have waited until the end.''

Penelas said Marlins representatives began negotiating in earnest with Burgess about two weeks ago.


Under the plan, the Marlins would handle stadium construction and be responsible for cost overruns. The deal would not need voter approval, unless the county or the city of Miami attempts to raise money through a sales tax or a bond issue.

Samson said the club can't survive financially under the terms of its existing lease at Pro Player Stadium with stadium owner H. Wayne Huizenga.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria ''was very clear about what he wanted to do,'' Samson said. ``He wanted a team that made sense. And losing $20 million a year at Pro Player doesn't make sense. He doesn't have an appetite for that.''

Samson said the club was ''flexible'' about where the stadium would be built, but he declined to comment about prospective sites.

''We are not going to attach ourselves to a site and make demands,'' Samson said.

Samson said the club did not intend to discuss the deal further until a financing plan had emerged and a site had been selected, though he suggested the club is seeking private investors to help.

If the club knows by March 15 -- the date the county has set as a deadline -- whether a stadium deal is feasible, it could build in time for opening day in April 2007, Samson said. No one addressed why the estimated cost of the stadium, at $325 million, is significantly lower than the $380 million figure used in a previous effort to finance a stadium two years ago.


One critic of the deal surfaced Tuesday. Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer said his city stands to lose about $50 million in bed-tax money it planned on using to refurbish the Miami Beach Convention Center.

''I certainly hope that the taxpayers of Miami Beach and the county will not have to foot the bill at the end of the day,'' Dermer said.

Though there is no mention in the county proposal of a role for the city of Miami, where a stadium would likely be located, the city is still trying to figure out what kind of financing it is willing to contribute, City Manager Joe Arriola said. While the city is actively searching for a stadium site, no money has been pledged.

During the past couple of weeks, city employees have been analyzing aerial photographs of downtown Miami -- from 36th Street south to the Miami River and from 17th Avenue east -- to try to identify potential stadium sites, Miami Commissioner Johnny Winton said.

City officials say the Orange Bowl area is emerging as a front-runner. The city already owns the Orange Bowl and some of the land around it.

''I think you can take additional land near the Orange Bowl and expand that complex,'' Winton said.

Arriola, who has been quietly talking to Marlins executives over the past several months, said the Orange Bowl site ``makes the most sense to the city right now.''

Scenarios include building a baseball stadium next to the old structure, or demolishing the Orange Bowl and building a baseball-only facility on the site, Arriola said.

Another potential site is the Miami Arena area. But Winton said much of the vacant land surrounding the arena is divided by Metrorail tracks, which would complicate construction.


City officials also acknowledge that the state would likely need to pitch in some money for the new stadium.

Among the ideas for a state role: allowing the Marlins to keep a $2 million annual tax rebate that the Legislature passed in the 1980s to attract sports teams, or redirecting a percentage of sales-tax money back to the stadium to help pay construction costs.

Ron Book, a former Marlins lobbyist who watched the team's stadium plans repeatedly fail in the Legislature over the past three years, said the team could get what it wants if it avoids past mistakes. Among them, he said: Factions in Miami-Dade's notoriously fractious political environment fought against each other, the financing plans for the stadium changed constantly, and everyone involved underestimated the price of a stadium, which he said is likely to be in the $400 million to $450 million range.

Gov. Jeb Bush's top economic advisor, Pam Dana, initiated a conference call Monday to gauge the mood of two of Miami-Dade's most powerful Republican lawmakers in the state House: Marco Rubio and Gaston Cantens. Cantens was behind a failed push in 2000 to build a stadium for the Marlins with money from cruise ship passengers. A year later, Rubio backed a failed plan to use city parking garage money as a source.

Rubio declined to comment. Cantens said Tuesday that Dana was simply collecting information, not proposing legislation. He said he would need time to study any proposal, and that he would be most supportive of a law that doesn't rob Miami-Dade of money and services.

Herald staff writers Lesley Clark, Peter Wallsten, Trenton Daniel, Barry Jackson and Nicole White contributed to this report.

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