Dade leaders pitch ‘urban’ ballpark for Marlins
The latest proposed site for a new Florida Marlins baseball park has drawn praise from some and skepticism from others but no pledges of new money to fund construction.
BY MATTHEW I. PINZUR
Some of Miami-Dade’s top officials are optimistic that a new downtown stadium site could plant the Florida Marlins in the heart of the city, but financing its construction remains a major hurdle.
Just north of the Stephen P. Clark Center, the nine-acre site would give baseball fans easy access to existing parking lots, commuter rail and Interstate 95. It is also just blocks from two other top entertainment destinations — the American Airlines Arena and the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts.
”We really think this can work,” said County Manager George Burgess.
But even as details emerged Tuesday, some county commissioners said the site is too small and they are wary of moving a juvenile courthouse planned for the same spot.
Moreover, no one involved in the deal — including the team, the county and the city of Miami — committed to chip in more money to close a funding gap of $90 million or more.
”It’s premature for any of us to be talking about numbers,” said Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.
The Marlins’ lease at Dolphin Stadium runs through 2010, at which point the team wants to move to a new, retractable-roof stadium. The club has not ruled out relocation, but has not pursued it since talks with San Antonio ended in May.
JUST ONE OPTION
A team spokesman declined to discuss the new site.
”We continue to look at all our options in South Florida, and this is one of them,” said P.J. Loyello, senior vice president for communications and broadcasting.
County government has offered previously to spend $120 million for a new stadium and the team was willing to spend about $210 million. That was still far short of the estimated cost, projected at $420 million earlier this year and likely growing as construction costs increase.
Diaz, however, hinted that his government may be willing to help, an offer that many thought had died late last year. He said he has “always loved the idea of an urban site.”
”We’ve never left the table, despite what some may have said,” Diaz said Tuesday. “Major League Baseball has always known that.”
TURNING TO STATE
Local leaders also hope to coax the state Legislature into providing some cash; previous efforts have failed, but South Floridians are playing more powerful roles in Tallahassee next year.
Other sites are still being discussed, including one near Interstate 75 in Hialeah and another just south of the Miami Arena. Both, however, require purchasing some privately held land, which would drive up the project’s overall cost.
At the new downtown site, all the land is government owned — mostly by the county, with a small piece held by the city. Both Metromover and Metrorail stop at the Clark Center, connecting the site to neighborhoods from Dadeland to Hialeah. And Burgess said the ballpark would be served by the numerous parking lots, restaurants and stores that otherwise empty out when the business day ends.
”It’s an urban ballpark, which has generally been successful from Major League Baseball’s perspective,” Burgess said.
But it is smaller than Dolphin Stadium; County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez described it as “very, very tight.”
”I’m not sold on the location,” he said. “The site was exciting on the computer, but when I saw it in person I wasn’t that excited.”
The plan also would require closing a child-care center attached to the Clark Center and closing or rerouting one or two roads, Burgess said.
It could impact the Downtown Charter School, which would be adjacent to the stadium.
Commissioner Natacha Seijas said she would have many questions about relocating the juvenile courthouse project, especially if it were moved away from other downtown courthouses. But Burgess said the county may be able to acquire land just east of the Clark Center, which would put the Children’s Courthouse closer to both rail stations and courthouses.
”This is a nonstarter if the Children’s Courthouse is impacted in any way,” Burgess said.
“Baseball is great, but the Children’s Courthouse has been a vision of many of ours for years.”
Miami Herald staff writer Barry Jackson contributed to this report.