The Marlins want to build a stadium on public land -- and they still want taxpayers to foot the bill.
By David Villano
Despite a blow from Gov. Jeb Bush, the new owner of the Florida Marlins is still hoping to follow in the footsteps of pro hockey and basketball by getting taxpayers to shell out $400 million for a state-of-the-art stadium on public parkland.
But owner John Henry, already dealt a setback when Bush vowed to veto plans to tax cruise passengers $4 a day, also faces a battle from civic groups, which are rallying against losing even more public green space to development.
Miami officials say they are undecided. The Bicentennial Park site in downtown Miami alone, where the team still hopes to have a stadium built, is valued at about $70 million.
Henry argues that the site, with its proximity to the county's high-density Hispanic enclaves, will attract more fans than the team's current home, Pro Player Stadium, in northern Miami-Dade. The team averaged only 17,557 fans at its home games last year (among the league's lowest), down from 29,555 two years earlier.
But the proposed site would gobble up a chunk of prime waterfront green space.
If local officials don't approve the plan, Henry has repeatedly said, the team likely will pursue alternate sites in Broward County or elsewhere. Three years ago, hockey's Florida Panthers managed to wrangle a new $192-million home -- the National Car Rental Center -- in Sunrise from taxpayers. A year later, Miami-Dade officials and voters caved in to demands from basketball's Miami Heat for a new $251-million waterfront facility, the AmericanAirlines Arena, which opened last January in Bicentennial Park.
But many residents are tired of watching their parkland shrink. Over the past two decades, much of downtown Miami's public waterfront has succumbed to development pressures. Equally contentious is the plan over how to fund the 38,000-seat, retractable-roof facility.
Marlins officials say 80% of the stadium should be publicly financed. Early this year, with local taxpayers in no mood to fund yet another sports facility, Henry proposed a $4-a-day tax on cruise passengers embarking from the Port of Miami -- the world's busiest for cruise traffic, with about 1.5-million passengers last year. Miami-Dade officials introduced a bill in the Legislature calling for a countywide vote on the tax plan.
However, Bush's veto threat left that plan in limbo.
Marlins officials believe community consensus exists for a new downtown stadium. As for funding, they're waiting to hear from local officials. A privately financed stadium, like San Francisco's new Pacific Bell Park, is out of the question. "We need government to bring the community together and reach an agreement on how this thing can be done," says Marlins Senior Vice President Julio G. Rebull Jr. "Leadership is not just about opposing but about proposing."
In the News
Broward County -- A record 14-million passengers passed through Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 1999, a 12.3% increase over a year earlier. Delta added nearly 500,000 passengers, followed by Spirit Airlines with 319,000 and Southwest Airlines with 218,000. The airport's cargo total also set a record, jumping nearly 20%.
Meanwhile, Canada-based Bombardier Aerospace has launched a $9.5-million expansion of its ground support facilities at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport that will add 150 new jobs this year. Company officials say the booming economy has created a surge in demand for private jets.
Fort Lauderdale -- Centex Construction Group, which operates in Florida under its Centex Rooney subsidiary, will move its corporate headquarters from Dallas to Fort Lauderdale. About 150 jobs will be created over the coming year. Centex Construction, a division of publicly traded Centex Corp. (NYSE-CTX), is one of the nation's largest general building contractors, with 1999 revenues in excess of $3.7 billion.
Key West -- An 18-acre Navy port facility will be handed over to Key West, allowing the city to expand and upgrade its cruise-ship passenger dock. The city will save nearly $1 million annually in payments it was making to the Navy for dockage fees. Cruise passenger totals reached 630,000 last year, up 7% from 1998. Similar increases are expected over the next five years.
Miami-Dade -- Construction is under way on a 170,000-sq.-ft. headquarters for Visa International's Latin American and Caribbean region. About 450 employees will work at the facility, which is scheduled for completion in mid-2001.
Highlighting the need for upgrades and expansions at South Florida's airports, a Federal Aviation Administration report projects annual passenger growth in the Latin American market of 6.1% through 2011 -- the highest growth rate among all regions.
The Miami-Dade County Commission has approved plans for an $18-million cultural arts center to be built in southern Miami-Dade's Perrine-Cutler Ridge area. The center will include classroom space, an outdoor plaza and a 1,000-seat theater. Groundbreaking is expected in September 2002, with completion by early 2004.
Tourism time-share operator Interval International has announced plans to add 85 jobs at its Kendall headquarters in west Miami-Dade. The announcement coincides with the opening of a 33,000-sq.-ft. member-services center. Later this year, the company expects to break ground on a 27,000-sq.-ft. addition to the center.
Tamarac -- Zephyrhills Bottled Water Co. has announced plans to build a 53,000-sq.-ft. distribution facility within the Tamarac Office Park. The new facility will create 100 jobs.
West Palm Beach -- In anticipation of lower sales, Wellington-based B.E. Aerospace (NASDAQ-BEAV) will trim 500 jobs by the end of the year, reducing its work force to about 4,150. The company, which manufactures airplane seats and other interior products for commercial aircraft, anticipates a fourth-quarter loss of $10 million.
Opa Locka -- Palm Beach County developer Charles Pasquale has announced an agreement to build a 175-acre business park at the Opa-Locka
Airport. The $450-million plan calls for 35 buildings to be built over the next 10 to 15 years at the north Miami-Dade facility. It is the second development deal in two years at the airport. A year ago, a Scottish transportation company signed an agreement to build two maintenance hangars.
Construction: Lobbyist Lobs
A survey of architect, engineer and construction consultants in Miami-Dade County turned up some results that aren't exactly flattering to lobbyists. Among the survey findings:
90% of respondents would rather not deal with lobbyists.
61% say you can't win a contract without lobbyists.
30% pay lobbyists only if they win -- which is against Florida law.
12% say lobbyists have a good or positive influence on the contract selection process.
When asked "How much do lobbyists control selections in Dade?"
73% of women and 80% of Hispanics answered, "They control everything. ..."