It isn't yet clear what auto dealer Norman Braman's lawsuit challenging the wide-ranging plan to fund $3 billion in downtown Miami projects means for the still being negotiated plan for a $525 million Marlins ballpark at the site of the Orange Bowl.
Miami-Dade County, the city of Miami, the Marlins and Major League Baseball intend to keep negotiating a Baseball Stadium Agreement.
"I have no reason to believe the deal is in trouble," MLB President Bob DuPuy said. "Stadium deals often engender opposition. I don’t view this as a reason to either delay or be concerned."
In fact, negotiators might be more concerned an agreement still has yet to be reached.
Nevertheless, some believe the suit could spell trouble if Braman prevails in court and a major source of ballpark funding is no longer available. At the very least being tied up in court could make it difficult for the Marlins to meet their April 2011 deadline for opening a ballpark. The team's lease at Dolphin Stadium expires after the 2010 season.
"If I were a Marlins fan, I would be very worried. This is going to push back this stadium, this is going to push back this deal," said Bob Jarvis, a sports and constitutional law professor at Nova Southeastern University.
Braman's suit claims the county's decision to move $50 million in general obligation bond funding approved by voters in 2004 to renovate the Orange Bowl to the ballpark project is unconstitutional. It also says changing the source of funding to repay the bonds on the performing arts center to free up money for the ballpark breaches the contract with bondholders, which include Braman. And that County Manager George Burgess negotiating the overall downtown plan -- and another for the stadium -- on behalf of the county commission in private is a violation of the state's public records law.
The suit stems from the city and county agreeing last month to the plan, which would extend the life and expand the boundaries of Miami's Redevelopment Agencies to generate millions for the downtown projects, including a port tunnel. The agreement would use CRA dollars to pay down the arts center debt, thereby freeing up hotel bed tax dollars -- which have been paying the debt -- for the stadium.
Braman says he is concerned taxpayers have been cut out of the process of deciding whether public dollars should be spent on a private enterprise like the Marlins. "The real issue is the taxpayers and voters that live in this county, I feel should have the right to say yes or no," he said.
A former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, Braman has waged successful public battles in Miami before. In 1999, he helped defeat a one penny sales tax measure for county transit projects. In 1982, he led the effort to defeat a Miami sales tax measure to renovate the Orange Bowl for the Dolphins.
"I think that while a ballpark would be nice, while there may be some economic benefits for some from the tunnel, these should be lower priority items and we shouldn't see any questionable switching of designated funds for this project," Jack McCabe, a Deerfield Beach real estate analyst and consultant, said, cautioning that he is not a lawyer. "I would think there probably are a number of other business leaders questioning these moves."
But Jack Winston, a partner at Miami real estate and financial consulting firm Goodkin Consulting, said he thinks the city-county agreement is "an ingenious plan" to use CRA dollars which have grown with condo development in Miami, to fund a variety of projects.
Winston said he doesn't think changing the source of repayment of the arts center bonds is a problem, since the county is guaranteeing they will be paid. And he's not sure moving the general obligation bond funds is an issue either, since the money is still going to a stadium at the same site, even if it isn't the Orange Bowl.
"One's football and one's baseball. What's the difference?" Winston asked. "If it's recreation-oriented bonds, it's for the recreation and entertainment of the public. I don't think that makes a difference. I'm not an attorney, but I think that's going to be an issue that comes up in court."
Jarvis, however, said he thinks the bond arguments are significant, but the public records law arguments might be even more harmful to the Marlins deal. "If the court accepts that, everything they've negotiated goes out the window," Jarvis said. "Even if they do everything again, but this time in public, that would set them back months and months. Every time you get these setbacks, the cost of the building goes up."
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