MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
Marlins, Hialeah discuss ballpark
The Marlins and Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina met for the first time to discuss Hialeah as the site of the team's new home. But a deal is far from certain.
BY REBECCA DELLAGLORIA AND BARRY JACKSON
Hialeah may not look a lot like Wrigleyville in Chicago, but Marlins President David Samson told Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina that he can see Florida's fifth-largest city as the home of a future Wrigley Field.
During an hour-long meeting Monday, the two discussed potential sites -- but not funding.
''We were very pleased the mayor was very excited with the possibility,'' Samson said.
Robaina proposed two locations where the stadium could be built: on the grounds of the Hialeah Park racetrack and on the site of the former Peerless Dade Landfill in an undeveloped area of the city, west of Interstate 75 and the Florida Turnpike. Both sites are privately owned.
''It was a good first meeting. We looked at both sites and there's an interest in them,'' said Robaina.
Samson, Robaina said, described Hialeah as a ''vibrant city,'' with ''established neighborhoods,'' much like the northside of Chicago, where the Cubs play.
Robaina said he has not spoken with either Armando Codina, who owns the landfill site or John Brunetti, owner of the racetrack, but wanted to see if either site was suitable for the team.
Codina, who was traveling, confirmed through a spokesperson that ``no one had discussed the matter with him.''
Both Brunetti and Codina are seeking to develop their properties, which each contain more than 200 acres. Parts of the storied race track are listed on the National Register for Historic Places, which protects it from renovations. Robaina said the available land is enough to accommodate a stadium.
The mayor added he would not support any form of public financing by city taxpayers to fund stadium construction. If Hialeah does not cover a piece of construction costs, however, a significant funding gap would remain.
Samson has said a stadium would cost $430 million if it opens by the team's new target date of 2010. In order for that to happen, the Marlins would need ``to have everything going forward in the next five months.''
The Marlins have said they will play at least two -- but no more than five -- more years at Dolphins Stadium.
Previously, Miami-Dade County pledged $138 million toward the stadium if it had been built on land adjacent to the Orange Bowl -- an idea that is no longer being considered. But it's unclear if the county would offer that amount for a Hialeah site.
The Marlins have offered $210 million, mostly through rent payments. That would leave a funding gap of about $80 million.
While the Marlins and the county have failed in previous attempts to get a $30 million state sales tax rebate from the Florida Legislature, Robaina said he would like to give it another try.
''If the deal comes down to it that they've got to be a part of it, you better believe we will be up in Tallahassee to get this done,'' Robaina said.
Samson said the county has discussed pursuing the sales tax rebate again, but would ''want a deal put together before they go back'' to Tallahassee. ''We would not be involved,'' Samson said.
In the meantime, the team and city will do traffic studies and site studies on each of the Hialeah locations to see if either is feasible.
The Marlins also have discussed building a ballpark on Wayne Huizenga-owned land next to Dolphins Stadium, but Samson said there has been ''no conversation'' with Huizenga Holdings officials in several weeks. He stopped short of calling that proposal dead.
Samson said he also intended to speak with Homestead officials about their interest in luring the Marlins to a 10,000-capacity baseball stadium once used by the Cleveland Indians during spring training. Homestead Mayor Roscoe Warren said the city manager met with the Marlins once, several months back, to express the city's interest, but that nothing materialized.
''From our perspective, we think it would be the perfect location for the Marlins,'' Warren said of the $20 million city-owned facility. ``The foundation is certainly there. It wouldn't take them that long to do.''
Samson said people have called about ''private sites in North Broward'' but that no meetings had been scheduled.
Meanwhile, the Marlins continue to explore relocation. They already have visited San Antonio and Portland, Ore., and will tour as many as five other markets by April, Samson said. Those markets are expected to be Las Vegas, Charlotte, N.C., Monterrey, Mexico, northern New Jersey, and Norfolk, VA.
Possibility of Marlins stadium deal called remote
A Marlins stadium deal may be a long shot, but Miami-Dade County officials have yet to throw in the towel.
BY TERE FIGUERAS [email protected]
The Marlins may yet find a home in Miami-Dade, with options including a landfill site in Hialeah and a spot near Miami International Airport.
But all of the possibilities are far from certain, and all come with serious drawbacks -- most notably, funding gaps.
In a memo to elected leaders this week, County Manager George Burgess outlined a handful of options that could keep the Marlins in Miami-Dade, but stressed some are little more than long shots.
''None of these options are easy, and many will be viewed as unrealistic,'' Burgess said.
Burgess didn't offer any recommendations and included some options the Marlins already have dismissed outright, such as retrofitting Dolphins Stadium with a retractable roof.
Multiple incarnations of a stadium deal have unraveled over the years.
A three-party deal involving the city of Miami, the county and the team unraveled last year. Talks between the Marlins and city officials frayed to the point that Miami officially backed out. Earlier attempts to persuade Tallahassee to pitch in funds have likewise fallen flat.
But while Miami-Dade commissioners weren't willing to give up -- and directed Burgess to look into the remaining options -- enthusiasm could be waning.
''At some point you have to make a decision,'' said Commissioner Sally Heyman, who noted she is frustrated with the constant back-and-forth between the Marlins and Miami-Dade. ``You can't keep dangling this out there in uncertainty.''
The Marlins have said construction of a new stadium would cost around $385 million -- a number commissioners have publicly questioned and which Burgess says still needs to be independently vetted.
Some options still in play:
• A new ballpark on a county-owned parking lot next to Dolphins Stadium. Estimated cost: $450 million. That leaves a $150 million shortfall, which Burgess suggests the county might ask stadium owner H. Wayne Huizenga, who holds the lease on the parking lot, or Broward County to help cover -- two major uncertainties.
• Retrofit Dolphins Stadium, by far the least costly alternative with an estimated price of $160 million. But the Marlins repeatedly have stated the team wants a new, roofed ballpark.
• Hialeah. The city is the latest to try to lure the Marlins into staying, suggesting a new stadium at the historic horse track or a recently annexed former landfill. Both sites are privately owned. The county's initial estimates place the costs of building in Hialeah between $445 million and $455 million. Preservation of historic race track structures and traffic congestion are other concerns. The landfill site is outside the urban development boundary and has not been approved for any kind of project, although an application to move the boundary is pending.
• A plot of land adjacent to the Miami Intermodal Center -- an ambitious transit hub under construction near Miami International Airport that would provide access to Metrorail, train and bus routes.
Burgess calls this site ''extremely intriguing'' because of its proximity to mass transit, but cautioned the project would be complex and could run afoul of FAA rules.
It also would be the costliest of the various options, coming in at an estimated $485 million.
The commission can pursue two other ways to close the funding gap -- both of which would require voter approval: a half- or full-cent sales tax increase, which would generate $160 million to $360 million; or a dollar increase on a car rental tax.
A referendum has its appeal, said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez.
''A lot of people feel very strongly about this,'' he said. ``So this would let the voters decide.''
Burgess listed other sites but conceded he does not ``foresee these as realistic options.''
Topping the not-realistic options are Bicentennial Park, the Orange Bowl and a site adjacent to the Miami Arena -- all within the city of Miami.
Another alternative deemed unlikely: a far-west tract of land outside the urban development boundary, which would likely spur opposition from opponents determined to keep the line in place.
BornInTheGrove said:Why is bicentennial park looked at unrealistic again??