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July 31, 2008

Big Event Region

In two days, South Florida has added two more major events to its already packed sports calendar. Is it possible for the region to become even bigger on the sports map?

On Wednesday, the Indy Racing League unveiled its 2009 IndyCar Series schedule and rather than kicking off the season, Homestead-Miami Speedway will host the finale of the 18-race schedule on Oct. 11, 2009.

It’s not NASCAR, but as you know, the speedway already hosts the final races in NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup series on the third weekend of November.

That means two championship events in five weeks. Speedway President Curtis Gray couldn’t be happier.

“We brand our speedway as your championship track,” he said. “Now it really is America’s ultimate championship motoropspots track. It is the first time NASCAR and Indy Car have ended their series at the same track.”

Look for the track to package tickets for the two events together and to pitch sponsors on investing in both. Despite its international flavor and increasing star power that includes Danica Patrick and two-time Indy 500 champion and Dancing with the Stars winner Helio Castroneves, the Indy race at Homestead has never been as popular at the track as the NASCAR event.

Will you be interested in attending now that it will be the championship event? Do you think crowds will grow as a result?

And on Thursday, Major League Baseball announced that Dolphin Stadium and the Marlins will host six second-round games in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, March 14-19. The games will pit the four winners and second-place finishers from the opening rounds being played in Toronto, which will host Canada, Italy, United States and Venezuela, and in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is hosting the Dominican Republic, the Netherlands, Panama and Puerto Rico.

MLB President Bob DuPuy said baseball officials have always believed South Florida is a “good baseball market.” DuPuy said the Miami Gardens venue was chosen for a number of reasons. MLB wanted to ensure there were second round games held on both the east and west coasts for television and liked the region’s Latin influence since several of the teams are from Latin countries.

They liked that Dolphin Stadium is a veteran of hosting large events, including two World Series and four Super Bowls. Even more telling might be that the decision was made as the Marlins were completing their ballpark financing plan with Miami and Miami-Dade County.

“When we made the decision we had a stadium deal. It was in part a show of good faith we would consider Miami for significant jewel events, given the imminent construction of a ballpark and the agreement had been reached,” DuPuy said. “Since the decision has been made, there are developments that are troublesome, but we are announcing Miami is hosting the second round and that only enhances the public purpose of a baseball stadium. Without a Major League Baseball stadium, there would be no World Baseball Classic.”

Are you interested in the WBC? Will you attend?

POSTED IN: Auto Racing (42), Florida Marlins (193), MLB (110)

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July 30, 2008

The Orange Bowl lives on. Sort of.

As you no doubt know, the Orange Bowl is no longer. It’s been flattened and workers are clearing the site to make way for a new ballpark for the Marlins. At least that’s the current plan. All bets are off as to whether the Marlins actually meet their anticipated April 2011 opening.

But pieces of the OB live on. In homes and offices. In backyards. You’ve snapped up light fixtures, lockers, orange seats, wooden seats, photos, pieces of the stadium’s concrete.

Under its salvage contract with the city of Miami, Mounted Memories, a division of Plantation-based Dreams Inc., held a January celebration, to honor the old stadium and then agreed to share 15 percent of all sales of items from the stadium and 10 percent from those sold at auction.

So far, the city has received $235,884.78 from the sale of items, city records show.

Records also show there are still plenty of items available, including signs, seats, framed photos, and T-shirts. Still looking for something? Check out the online store here.

POSTED IN: Miami Hurricanes (32), Orange Bowl (45)

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July 24, 2008

Marlins Stadium Update No. 760Li

The trial finished up Wednesday, but the timetable for stadium construction got even murkier.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen listened to closing arguments on whether a $515 million ballpark at the site of the Orange Bowl serves a “paramount public purpose” under the state constitution, or is just, as auto dealer Norman Braman alleges, using public tax dollars to subsidize a private enterprise.

She heard from Braman’s attorney, Bob Martinez, about democracy and protecting the people’s money, about the county and city financing the Marlins, “a commercial business operation,” and orchestrating “backroom deals.” She was reminded that the county and city have no proof the Marlins can meet their obligations to a stadium funding plan and the team has the lowest attendance in Major League Baseball by far.

“The residents of South Florida have voted with their wallets and their feet. They have made the Marlins the lowest in the Major Leagues,” Martinez said. “They just don’t want to go.”

Attorneys for the city, county and team questioned why they should even be arguing the issue since courts have repeatedly ruled stadiums do serve a “paramount public purpose.” They reminded Cohen the ballpark will be a publicly-owned venue that will add to the community’s image. And they said there is nothing in the law that requires a team to open its financial books.

“It’s their burden to show the stadium serves a paramount private purpose,” Assistant County Attorney David Hope said of Braman’s legal team. “Plaintiffs have not satisfied that argument.”

And then Cohen decided she still couldn’t decide. Although stadiums historically meet the test, Cohen said she was still having difficulty with the arguments. She asked the lawyers to bring her additional information by Tuesday and she’ll rule within 10 days of receiving it.

She’s also set a Sept. 15 deadline to rule on the other remaining count in Braman’s case: whether a portion of the financing for the $3 billion in Miami projects must go to a public vote. Cohen believes by then the Florida Supreme Court will issue rulings in two similar cases. She thinks she needs the rulings to guide her decision on whether the use of property tax dollars to pay off bonds on long-term projects must go to a vote.

To be sure, Cohen has been exceedingly deliberate in her decisions. She made clear she is being prudent – her decisions are legal ones, not emotional and have nothing to do with whether she thinks a ballpark is a good idea.

So, what does all this mean for the ballpark?

That’s still unclear and even Marlins President David Samson says the trial has caused delays that the team has yet to quantify. The team hopes to break ground later this year and be in a new ballpark by 2011. But that date becomes more tenuous the longer the wait to finish negotiating definitive construction management, assurance and other agreements that spell out the terms for the ballpark. Those agreements will need approval of both the city and county commissions before bonds can be issued for the project.

“We certainly had expected that by now this project would be moving forward faster than it has been,” Samson said. “[The trial has] caused delays. We haven’t quantified them yet, we’re not sure what it all means yet. This case continues to be ongoing and we will see what happens in the next couple of weeks up and through early September.”

Samson declined to get into detail about the count in the case dealing with a referendum but simply said it does not affect the stadium.

“The fact of the matter is, from our standpint, there’s nothing in this complaint that would lead to a referendum for the baseball stadium,” Samson said.

But Braman’s attorneys believe that it does because the stadium is linked to the other Miami projects – at least on paper – because the $3 billion plan includes plans to use more property tax dollars meant for impoverished neighborhoods to pay off bonds on the performing arts center to free up hotel bed taxes that could be used for the ballpark.

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who did not attend the trial, also agrees with Samson. Even if Cohen rules a referendum is required, it would not apply to the stadium, he said. He said he remains as committed as ever to the ballpark project and the city, county and team will continue working on the project, even as the case makes its way through the legal system and any appeals Braman is expected to file.

“I believe we’re going to win on every legal issue here, because the law is very clear,” Diaz said. “We’re allowed to do everyting we’ve done.”

Diaz said in a “representative democracy,” voters get to choose their political leaders to make decisions.

“The last time I checked [Braman is] not the mayor of city of Miami, he’s not the mayor of Miami-Dade County,” Diaz said. “If he wants to run for office, then he should run for office.”

As always, stay tuned….

POSTED IN: Florida Marlins (193), Marlins Stadium Updates (112)

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July 23, 2008

D Wade’s Place sues D. Wade

Last August, Heat guard Dwyane Wade and a company called D Wade’s Place signed a contract to open restaurants with Wade’s name on them. In exchange, Wade would receive a 10 percent interest in the business.

Almost a year later, two D. Wade’s Sports Grills have opened and shut – one each in Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale – and D Wade’s Place is suing the Olympics-bound Wade for breach of contract.

In the suit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on Friday, D Wade’s Place representatives Mark Rodberg and Richard von Houtman allege Wade breached the contract by not making the required marketing and promotional appearances on behalf the restaurants. That has led to the restaurants’ failure and delay in opening a third location in Aventura, the suit says. The Boca location closed a couple of months ago; the Fort Lauderdale one was shut June 12.

The company is seeking more than $15,000 in damages plus attorneys’ fees and costs.

But according to Steven Peretz, an attorney representing Wade, it’s the star basketball player who has been hurt by the arrangement. He said Wade, who has met his promotional obligations, told company officials in May to concentrate on its existing businesses “before he’d agree to have any expansion of the restaurants take place.”

“If anything, Dwyane has a concern that the value of his name has been tarnished by ceasing operation of the restaurants,” Peretz said, adding that it was Wade who tried to put the brakes on the company from growing too quickly. “This is an instance where D. Wade called a timeout on the expectation of the restaurants. The pilot restaurants have not shown any record for success.”

Peretz said Wade also has the right to view the company’s finances, but the business has failed to share any meaningful information.

POSTED IN: Miami Heat (174), Sponsorship (101)

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July 22, 2008

Marlins Stadium Update No. M6

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen threw another curve in court today.

After showing the proceedings in two Florida Supreme Court hearings on video in the courtroom, Cohen said she’s decided to hold off on ruling on the referendum portion of auto dealer Norman Braman’s lawsuit, until the court rules in those cases. The two cases deal with the issue of using property tax dollars to pay off bonds on public projects long term without a public vote.

Cohen said she believes the “spirit” of the cases applies to the issue she’s considering in the Braman case: whether a public vote is required on the use of property tax dollars generated in Miami’s Community Redevelopment Agency districts – meant to improve impoverished neighborhoods -- to pay off bonds on Miami projects, including debt on the performing arts center.

The $515 million Marlins ballpark is tied to the $3 billion in Miami projects – at least on paper – because the financing plan for the projects says use of the property tax money will free up hotel bed tax dollars for the ballpark. Whether the ballpark financing would be up for a vote is up for debate, since it doesn’t rely on property tax dollars (other than $50 million in general obligation bond funding that was already the subject of a referendum). Braman wants the public to vote on all the projects.

It’s unclear when the Supreme Court may rule. It’s on recess until next month and isn’t expected to issue a ruling before Aug. 28. Three members will be off the court by January.

An impassioned and occasionally fiery Cohen told the court why she was delaying her ruling. She said without the Supreme Court’s decisions, the law is unclear. She said the court got itself into a “quagmire.”

“I know you’ve got to start building your stadium,” Cohen told attorneys for the Marlins, city and county. “I don’t know what the law is and neither do you.”

Cohen said she would not change her mind, but would write to the court to ask when it might rule. Cohen is up for re-election in late August – meaning it’s possible she could be out of office by the time the court rules.

Braman said he was pleased with Cohen’s decision to weigh the decision carefully. Team, city and county attorneys were annoyed and urged Cohen to rule.

“I think your obligation is to rule now and take your chances,” Marlins attorney Sandy Bohrer said. Bohrer said a delay “hurts my client but helps Mr. Braman.”

Marlins President David Samson wasn’t commenting today, but it’s possible he might say something if the case wraps up Wednesday. Cohen has scheduled closing arguments and may rule on whether the stadium serves a “paramount public purpose,” or is, as Braman alleges, use of public dollars to subsidize a private enterprise.

POSTED IN: Florida Marlins (193), Marlins Stadium Updates (112)

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July 21, 2008

Marlins Stadium Update No. 535xi

Bring the popcorn! Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen is hosting a movie night. Of sorts.

In a move that even she called “unorthodox” Monday, Cohen will show the videos -- in the courtroom -- of the Florida Supreme Court hearing three cases related to one of the main arguments in auto dealer Norman Braman’s case against the Marlins, Miami and Miami-Dade County. Braman argues the public should vote on the financing for $3 billion worth of Miami projects, including a $515 million Marlins ballpark.

Cohen is “torn” because she said she believes the state Supreme Court’s ruling last September in Gregory Strand v. Escambia County, which challenged the county using property tax dollars to pay off bonds without a public vote, does apply in the Braman case. However, the court is re-hearing the case so the decision is not final.

Cohen said she watched the Supreme Court re-hearing Strand and two other related cases over the weekend.

“I wanted to see what was going on. It was very instructive,” Cohen said of watching the Strand arguments. “The bad news is it’s a mess. The good news is they are asking the same questions I am.”

Despite the objections of a city attorney, who said he didn’t think the videos would advance the case, Cohen said the video showing will go on after the team, city and county rest their case, expected on Tuesday. She said attorneys could watch on their own, but “I’m having a party and I’m inviting you … We have to do what I want to do,” she said. “You are going to accommodate me.”

Meanwhile, much of Monday was spent listening to the testimony of county witness Tony Villamil, president of Washington Economics Group, who had studied the potential sites for a Marlins ballpark in 2001, when John Henry owned the team. Villamil, who testified for more than six hours, studied Bicentennial Park, a site on the north side of the Miami River and a spot near Miami Arena.

Villamil testified about the amenity a ballpark provides for the community and its ability to spur economic development. He also said he believed if a new ballpark isn’t built, the Marlins will move from South Florida.

But Villamil’s credentials were called ino question by Braman attorney Bob Martinez, who wondered how Villamil could testify based on studies from 2001 and no analysis of the current stadium proposal.

“We know without a stadium we lose the Marlins,” Villamil said. “We know that.”

Even Cohen was not convinced. “We don’t know that,” she said. “…Major League Baseball controls that and it hasn’t been determined yet. It’s too early.”

Cohen and Martinez questioned how Villami could know what to expect, particularly if he hadn’t studied the most recent ballpark plan and had no idea if the Marlins will draw better in a new bllpark.

“How can they know their attendance is going to go up?” Cohen said. “How do we know that?”

Villamil said officials need to believe the Marlins – an idea that didn’t sit well with Cohen. She reminded the court that large companies, such as Bear Stearns, had suffered based on assumptions.

“I don’t mean to cross examine you,” Cohen said, “but I have a big decision to make.”

POSTED IN: Florida Marlins (193), Marlins Stadium Updates (112), Orange Bowl (45)

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July 19, 2008

Marlins Stadium Update No. M5

More thoughts and tidbits from the Norman Braman trial targeting financing for the Marlins ballpark:

To vote or not to vote: Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen is clearly very thoughtfully weighing how to apply a Florida Supreme Court ruling from September that says if property taxes are used to pay off bonds on major public projects for more than a year, they are subject to a vote of the public. However, the ruling is being reconsidered and is not final. The court is on recess until late August.

Cohen made it very clear that she’s read the Strand v. Escambia County case and similar cases and is comfortable with her interpretation that the Miami-Dade County-city of Miami "scheme" to fund $3 billion in city projects, including a port tunnel, museum park and the ballpark, is subject to a referendum. But she said she's not sure how to apply it in this case. (She also took pains to ensure everyone understood she didn't mean "scheme" in a "sinister" way.)

The referendum question is the key argument remaining in Braman’s case – which was dealt a setback this week when Cohen dismissed two of the complaints dealing with bond financing. Braman believes the financing plan is a “shell game” because it expands Miami’s Community Redevelopment Agenies (CRA) to generate millions in property tax dollars meant for impoverished neighborhoods to pay debt on the performing arts center, thereby freeing up hotel bed tax dollars for the ballpark.

Attorneys for the county, city and team argued the Strand case does not apply because the CRA is not a taxing authority, the CRA dollars are not “pledged” to pay off the bonds, and the ruling isn’t final. Cohen said she understands those arguments, but believes Strand applies because the CRA dollars will be used to pay off bonds. The question for her is how to apply the ruling since it isn’t final.

By the way, Cohen called the proceedings “the trial of the month” because of the media attention they are receiving.

Polls and votes: A poll discussed in court and another released by Bendixen & Associates this week show county voters don’t support public funding for a ballpark. And clearly, team, city and county would prefer to avoid a public vote.

During his testimony this week, Marlins President David Samson said he believes the public supports a ballpark, based on the “hundreds and hundreds of emails,” he’s received from fans. Samson also said he supports “representative democracy,” meaning the people elect politicians to make decisions.

If Cohen does rule in favor of a referendum, it’s questionable whether it would apply to funding for the ballpark. If the county can prove there is no property tax money going to the ballpark other than the $50 million in general obligation bond funding, which was already approved by voters in 2004 – albeit for renovation of the Orange Bowl, not a ballpark – the funding likely wouldn’t be subject to referendum. Since the ballpark is linked – at least on paper – to the $3 billion in projects in the city-county plan, it’s unclear if the public must vote on it as well, with the other projects.

Samson and attendance: Braman attorney Bob Martinez made several attempts to embarrass Samson during his testimony Thursday, including bringing up the question of whether team owner Jeffrey Loria is still his stepfather. Samson said he is not because he divorced Samson’s mother several years ago.

“He was your stepfather?” Martinez asked.

Marlins attorney Sandy Bohrer objected: “Is he going to ask if he has brothers and sisters?”

Martinez later spent several minutes detailing the Marlins’ attendance and that of the Montreal Expos – the team Loria previously owned – pointing out that under Samson’s leadership the teams ranked between 26th and lowest in attendance among MLB’s 30 teams dating back to 2001.

“So your track record, whether you blame it on the stadium or whatever, your track record as president of a baseball team,” Martinez said, “that ballclub, its attendance has ranked at the very bottom whether it was in Miami or Montreal.”

Samson replied: “If you’re trying to say there’s some correlation, you are certainly entitled. It’s a free country.”

What’s next?: The trial resumes Monday with witnesses for the county testifying about the ballpark serving a "paramount public purpose" rather than using public dollars to bankroll a private enterprise, as Braman argues.

Depending how Cohen rules, the team, city and county are planning to proceed with negotiations to wrap up the language in the definitive construction management, assurance, non-relocation and other agreements that spell out the detailed terms for building the ballpark.

Under the Baseball Stadium Agreement approved in February, those documents were meant to come back to the city and county commissions by July 1, but were delayed because of the trial. County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez asked County Manager George Burgess on Thursday when the commissions would see them.

Burgess estimated in late August or September.

POSTED IN: Florida Marlins (193), Marlins Stadium Updates (112), Orange Bowl (45)

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July 16, 2008

Marlins Stadium Update No. 328i

Random thoughts and tidbits from the trial in the lawsuit filed by auto dealer Norman Braman against Miami-Dade County, the city of Miami and the Marlins over a plan to finance $3 billion worth of projects, including the Marlins' proposed $515 million ballpark:

First: if you haven't read my colleague Mike Berardino's notes from Tuesday's All-Star Game, read them here. MLB officials remain optimistic about the Marlins opening their new ballpark at the site of the Orange Bowl in 2011, but they are a tad concerned about the timing, particularly with the ongoing lawsuit.

What if: What will happen if the ballpark isn't ready in time for the 2011 season? Unclear. The team's lease expires after the 2010 season and Dolphin Stadium officials have previously said the team won't be kicked out if its new home isn't ready. Asked about this issue during the trial Wednesday, Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess said "My assumption is they'd either renew their lease or it would be up to them and Major League Baseball to find an alternative place to play."

While much of the testimony has focused on the intricate details of bond financing, requirements for public referendums, "paramount public purpose," and ad valorem taxes, there have been some moments of levity.

Oscar v. Super Bowl: During his testimony about the economic benefits of a publicly-financed baseball stadium, University of South Florida economics professor Philip Porter compared stadiums to movie theaters to show that private enterprises don't deserve public dollars. Even though he has repeatedly disputed the economic benefits of Super Bowls and other large events, he acknowledges he is a sports fan who loved attending Super Bowl III at the Orange Bowl when he was growing up in Miami.

The movie theater comparison prompted Assistant County Attorney David Hope to ask Porter what was the last movie he saw in a theater. Practically stumped for an answer, Porter said, "Oh, I don't know...Ben-Hur." The answer elicited laughs from the courtroom.

Hope was questioning Porter about determining quality of life issues. He acknowledged that Ben-Hur, released in 1959, won an Academy Award and wondered which Porter received more enjoyment from - the movie or Super Bowl III? Porter said Super Bowl III.

"Ben-Hur won an Oscar and you still remember Super Bowl III," Hope said.

"It had nothing to do with public subsidies," Porter said.

Dueling cell phones: At one point Wednesday, a cell phone chirped -- a no-no in court. Burgess pointed out the culprit was his wife. Judge Jeri Beth Cohen gave Mrs. Burgess a pass.

She wasn't so lenient with Braman attorney Bob Martinez, whose phone cell phone also began ringing. "Mr. Martinez," Cohen admonished: "Mrs. Burgess's wife is not usually in court."

A red-faced Martinez chuckled about his Bob Marley-playing phone.

POSTED IN: Florida Marlins (193), Marlins Stadium Updates (112), Orange Bowl (45)

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July 15, 2008

Home Run Derby pays off for Brewers fans

Just wanted to share what seemed like a good idea by the Milwaukee Brewers to reward fans for left fielder Ryan Braun’s performance in Monday night’s Home Run Derby.

Billed as “Braun Homers…You Score!” the program allowed fans to purchase Loge Outfield seats at Miller Park today for the Aug. 11 game versus the Washington Nationals for a price reduced by a $1 for every home run Braun hit in the derby. Braun hit 14. Loge seats dropped from $26 to $12 for that night. Fans were limited to four tickets when the tickets went on sale this morning.

POSTED IN: MLB (110), Promotions (120), Tickets (126)

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July 14, 2008

Marlins Stadium Update No. Z4

After hours of intricate technical debate over public financing, Florida Supreme Court decisions, public referendums, the definition of “pledge” and whether the Miami Community Redevelopment Agency has taxing authority (really exciting stuff!), things got a little more spirited in the courtroom Monday afternoon.

When auto dealer Norman Braman -- plaintiff in the case against the financing for a Marlins ballpark and other Miami projects -- took the stand at the end of the first day of the trial in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, that’s when things got interesting.

Braman told the court he didn’t believe public tax dollars should be used to fund a private enterprise – and ballplayers’ salaries – without a vote of the public. He also raised an issue his attorneys had spent a lot of time questioning public officials about: the financial wherewithal of the Marlins. Too bad Judge Jeri Beth Cohen agreed with Marlins attorney Sandy Bohrer that the team’s finances were irrelevant to the case.

But not before Braman and his attorneys made their point about the team’s financial health.

“I’m opposed to the baseball stadium for a lot of reasons,” Braman said. “I know the Marlins do not have the financial capacity…”

But Braman was cut off by Bohrer, who repeatedly objected to questioning about the team’s finances and admitting into evidence a document Braman says he received from Marlins President David Samson in 2003. The Marlins were seeking local investors at the time and the document was said to include financial data about the team.

Braman attorney Bob Martinez said the document shows the team was $150 million in debt and had no equity. Braman later slipped in that he turned down the team’s request to invest because “I could not invest in a company that had $163 million…” but he was again cut off.

Martinez halted his questioning and team, county and city attorneys refused to cross-examine Braman.

After court ended for the day, Samson said he had "no recollection" of the document he is said to have shared with Braman. "There’s nothing to talk about. It’s not allowed in evidence. There’s just nothing to say," Samson said shaking his head over the court proceedings. "It’s just a lot of taxpayer money going to waste right now."

Other testimony during the day – shown via video -- focused on whether public officials had questioned the Marlins about their finances, ever asked to look at their books and if they knew why the Marlins need public money for a stadium.

“My understanding is they can’t afford it,” County Mayor Carlos Alvarez said, when asked why the team needed tax dollars for its proposed $515 million ballpark at the site of the Orange Bowl.

The trial resumes Tuesday morning with witnesses expected to include Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess and perhaps Samson.

POSTED IN: Florida Marlins (193), Marlins Stadium Updates (112), Orange Bowl (45)

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Dix’s gamble pays off

Fort Lauderdale sprinter Walter Dix competed in the U.S. Olympic trials in his FSU uniform.

He had turned down earlier endorsement deals said to be worth $1 million a year.

The gamble paid off. Dix has signed a multi-million dollar contract with Nike through December 2012. His agent calls the deal “record-breaking” for a track star. Read my colleague Sharon Robb’s story about Dix here.

POSTED IN: Endorsements (20)

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July 12, 2008

Marlins Stadium Update No. 750Li

Unless auto dealer Norman Braman has a giant change of heart, his lawsuit is going to trial Monday morning.

Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Jeri Beth Cohen ordered the parties into mediation talks Thursday afternoon to try to settle the case, in which Braman is suing the Marlins, Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami over a plan to fund $3 billion worth of Miami projects, including a ballpark.

But formal talks were stalled as of Friday. And on Saturday morning, Braman told a rally of supporters on Watson Island he won’t settle unless there’s a public vote on the city-county plan. (I was not at the rally, but spoke with someone who was). Fewer than 100 people attended the rally organized at Watson Island precisely because it’s one of the areas the city and county want included in an expanded Community Redevelopment Agency district (meant to include areas of “slum and blight”) to generate millions more in property tax dollars to help fund the city-county projects.

Braman has said he would drop his lawsuit if the public was allowed to vote on the financing for the $515 million ballpark and the other projects. He objects to funneling dollars meant to revitalize neighborhoods into paying off construction debt for the performing arts center. He wants voters to have a say.

The county, city and Marlins believe they can win the case – several rulings have stripped some key arguments from Braman’s case – and they don’t believe a referendum is necessary.

I’m told settlement talks had included a variety of options, such as projects that would improve neighborhoods, increasing the percentage the community would receive if the Marlins were sold and providing more public access to the ballpark to be built at the site of the Orange Bowl. Those ideas appear to be off the table.

More on Monday…

POSTED IN: Florida Marlins (193), Marlins Stadium Updates (112), Orange Bowl (45)

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July 10, 2008

Marlins Stadium Update No. 7,911

The Miami courtroom was packed Thursday afternoon in anticipation of opening statements in the lawsuit filed by auto dealer Norman Braman that targets the financing for the Marlins ballpark.

But Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Jeri Beth Cohen surprised everyone by ordering the sides back into mediation – talks had taken place Tuesday and Wednesday without reaching agreement – to try to reach a settlement. She said the trial would resume Monday morning, meaning it’s possible a settlement could be close.

Braman has said he would drop his suit if the financing for the $515 million ballpark were put to a public vote. That’s not something the defendants – the Marlins, Miami-Dade County and city of Miami – will support. County Manager George Burgess, who was set to testify in the case Friday, said as much Thursday, when asked by a reporter if he’d agree to a referendum.

“Why?” was all Burgess said.

Both sides seem willing to continue talking, but they weren't revealing what a possible settlement might entail.

“If we could work out something that’s positive for the community, that’s been my objective from the very outset,” Braman said. “If it makes sense for the community and makes sense for everybody, I certainly have no objection to it.”

What Braman objects to, among other issues, is the way the city-county plan to fund $3 billion worth of projects by expanding Miami’s Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRA) to generate millions in special property tax dollars directs some of those tax dollars to pay down debt on the performing arts center. Those CRA dollars are meant to be used to revitalize areas deemed “slum and blight.”

The Marlins, county and city believe they can win the suit, but whoever loses is expected to appeal. And Braman could take the issue to the Florida Supreme Court.

The team hopes to break ground for the 37,000-seat ballpark at the site of the Orange Bowl in November. While the county could issue the bonds to pay for construction while the case is still in court, it’s not only unlikely, but who would buy those bonds? A delay is also expected to drive up the cost of the ballpark.

The Marlins' lease at Dolphin Stadium expires after the 2010 season.

POSTED IN: Florida Marlins (193), Marlins Stadium Updates (112), Orange Bowl (45)

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Marlins ballpark design: one person's idea

WARNING: This is NOT the Marlins’ design for a new ballpark.

marlins-stadiumnew1.jpgIt is simply one man’s view of what the new ballpark should, but won’t, look like. Since we’ve been waiting for renderings, which the team has been promising to share for several weeks, it seemed entertaining to share someone else’s idea.

Miami resident and longtime Marlins fan Daniel Yanez, who recently obtained his degree in architecture from Notre Dame, made the Marlins ballpark project the subject of his thesis. Here are renderings of his idea, which he says is far different and far more appropriate for the Orange Bowl site than what the Marlins and their architects are contemplating.marlins-stadium4new2.jpg

Yanez says he’s seen some of their designs, but since I haven’t, I can’t tell you what they look like. Yanez talks about a spaceship design, which isn’t all that surprising given that earlier renderings like this one have been compared to spaceships. Yanez said the ballpark shouldn’t be modern.

“It’s in Little Havana,” said Yanez, 23. “It’s not in Little Cape Canaveral.”

Yanez said his design – as you can see – is more classical. He describes it as an “inhabited temple.” To me, it looks like one of the memorials in Washington, D.C., but with a marlin on top.

“There is a rich history of Traditional Architecture in Miami and Havana and I think that should play a key role for using precedent for this building,” Yanez said in an email. “Some of the main precedents for this building were Leon Krier’s Jorge M. Perez Architecture Center at the University of Miami and Windsor Village Hall in Windsor, Florida. Michael Grave’s Dolphin Hotel in Lake Buena Vista, Florida was also a precedent for this stadium.”marlins-stadium5new3.jpg

He has also paid attention to “sustainable design,” configuring the venue to take advantage of passive cooling systems and shade. As for the roof, which has the center parts moving underneath the stationary sides, it’s a “highly translucent PTFE architectural fabric membrane that has an open, airy feel, even when the roof is closed,” Yanez writes.

The Marlins are hoping to share H.O.K. Sport’s REAL renderings soon.

POSTED IN: Florida Marlins (193)

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July 9, 2008

Let's buy two!

Apparently a minority ownership stake in one NHL franchise wasn’t enough for Fort Lauderdale advertising executive Jordan Zimmerman and St. Louis orthopedic surgeon Rick Lehman.

Zimmerman and Lehman, who are both investors in the Panthers, bought into the Southeast division rival Tampa Bay Lightning last month. They are part of an eight-person ownership group led by Hollywood producer Oren Koules and former Panthers player Len Barrie. And as odd as it sounds, the league says: “multiple minority ownership interests are permitted by the NHL Constitution.”

“It hasn’t been done,” said Zimmerman, founder of Zimmerman & Partners advertising in Fort Lauderdale. “We’re the first.”

The partners say they’re just improving their odds of winning.

“If I make enough investments, I’ve got a better chance of winning a cup and a ring,” Zimmerman said. “Why be typical? I built a whole ad agency of being untypical.”

Zimmerman said he was approached by Koules and Barrie about investing in the team: “I thought this was an opportunity to get involved in another team, help them build some of their ancillary revenue streams … my skill set is truly on the business side.”

He approached Lehman about joining the group.

“The first one was such a good idea, I figured I’d invest in another one,” said Lehman, who specializes in sports medicine. “They called and were looking for people to look after their medical in Tampa. I did it for the Panthers for a while.”

What will they do when the two teams play each other a half dozen times next year?

“In my arena, whoever wins," Zimmerman said, "that’s the team I’m rooting for."

POSTED IN: Florida Panthers (108), NHL (56)

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July 8, 2008

Towering over Times Square

Talk about coincidence.

Boca Raton’s Ryan Hunter-Reay won his first IndyCar Series race on Sunday.

It was good timing since he was already a towering figure in Times Square. Well, his likeness anyway, in an 80-foot tall billboard for sponsor Izod.

The billboard originally said “I am next,” but check out how Izod changed the ad to read “I am now,” after Hunter-Reay’s win at Watkins Glen, N.Y.

“The timing with the win and everything, it’s unreal,” an awed Hunter-Reay said by phone on his way to the billboard’s official unveiling Monday afternoon. “Right in Times Square, the busiest intersection in New York. It’s indescribable.”

Hunter-Reay loves the idea people might not be recognize the 2008 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year.

“That’s the beautiful thing about that,” he said. “They will say ‘Who is that?’ They’ll check out the IndyCar thing.”

POSTED IN: Advertising (79), Auto Racing (42), Sponsorship (101)

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Marlins Stadium Update No. 3,710

For those following the lawsuit filed by auto dealer Norman Braman that targets the financing of the ballpark and other Miami projects, you’ll have to wait another day for the trial to start. Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Jeri Beth Cohen delayed the trial’s start until Thursday afternoon – rather than Wednesday morning – to accommodate schedules.

For those keeping score, Cohen also made some rulings Monday that favor the defendants in the case -- the Marlins, Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami. She upheld rulings by original judge Pedro Echarte Jr. – who recused himself from the case last month – that prevent the Marlins from having to open their financial books and that Braman doesn’t have standing to challenge whether the city properly advertised the meeting in which city commissioners approved the concept of funding $3 billion of city projects.

Cohen also ruled Braman doesn't have standing to challenge the use of Community Redevelopment Agency dollars -- meant to improve areas designated as "slum and blight" -- to fund projects including a traffic tunnel to the Port of Miami and museums under the city-county plan to fund $3 billion worth of Miami projects. However, Braman will be allowed to argue that the concept should be put to a public referendum.

And among the arguments remaining in the case are whether the county can change the form of repayment of the bonds used to fund construction of the performing arts center and move the $50 million in general obligation bond dollars voters approved in 2004 to renovate the Orange Bowl to the ballpark project.

More on Thursday….

POSTED IN: Marlins Stadium Updates (112)

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July 6, 2008

Dunkin' runs on sports

Kazmir22.jpgDunkin’ Donuts keeps expanding its relationship with sports.

The company is capitalizing on baseball’s popularity this summer with its Bases Loaded promotion that combines free food and other prizes with a video game component that allows fans to face one of two pitchers online to try to get a hit. Dunkin’ is partnering with MLB, the MLB Players Association and 2K Sports.

Through Sept. 30, all cups of cold Dunkin' beverages – iced tea and coffee and smoothies – come with a peel-away sticker that carries a login code for fans to win prizes and coupons for flatbread sandwiches and pizzas. At dunkindonuts.com/basesloaded, baseball fans can choose to face either New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain or Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to try to get a hit. Prizes include 2K Sports games, high definition TVs, and Xbox video game systems.

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels and Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir are also helping advertise the promotion in their markets – meaning the Rays' success on the field is getting them notice off the field, too. Fans in most Florida counties -- excluding South Florida and the Treasure Coast -- will also be eligible to win Rays tickets and a trip to Boston to see a Rays-Red Sox game.

Meanwhile, the Massaschusetts company also got involved with NASCAR this past weekend, stopping at Daytona International Speedway for the Nationwide Series Daytona 250 on July 4. A Dunkin' logo and hot coffee cup appeared on driver Eric McClure’s No. 24 car and his crew got Dunkin’ items for meals last Thursday and Friday.

POSTED IN: Auto Racing (42), MLB (110), Promotions (120)

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July 1, 2008

Marlins Stadium Update No. 701,111

The Marlins caught a break today when the new judge in the lawsuit filed by luxury auto dealer Norman Braman agreed to begin the trial next Wednesday, July 9.

The trial was supposed to begin today, but had to be postponed when Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Pedro Echarte Jr. recused himself Thursday and Judge Jeri Beth Cohen was assigned the case instead.

Cohen told the court Friday she might not be able to hear the case until September. The delay dismayed the defendants – the Marlins, Miami-Dade County and city of Miami – who are hoping to break ground for a new ballpark at the site of the Orange Bowl in November.

But Cohen said today she’d read through most of the case over the weekend, rearranged her schedule and agreed to hold the trial in July. She also will allow Braman’s attorneys to re-argue some of the motions Echarte denied.

After overseeing the case for months and ruling on several motions – for both the plaintiffs and defendants – Echarte recused himself last week at the request of Braman attorney Bob Martinez, who said in court papers that he discovered last week a distant familial relationship between him and Echarte.

The defendants called the timing of the recusal suspicious. Some believe Braman’s intent is to delay the project so long that it will drive up the project’s cost too much to build.

So the defendants were pleased the trial will begin next week.

“We want to go forward as quickly as we can and get these issues resolved,” said Scott Ponce, an attorney representing the Marlins. “There’s a lot of paperwork that needs to be done as far as architects doing their thing, stadiumd designers are doing their thing. And that process needs to keep getting funded and keep going forward while we’re waiting for this.”

Among issues discussed today were the number of witnesses both sides expect to call and how long the trial could take. Cohen called the list, which includes both the county and city mayors, the county manager, two city commissioners, city and county finance directors, and Marlins President David Samson, a “who’s who.”

Cohen said she expects the trial to “take July.” She urged the attorneys to “cancel your vacations.”

County attorney David Hope said he already had. “No Belize for me,” he said.

POSTED IN: Marlins Stadium Updates (112)

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About the author
CRAIG DAVIS In more than 33 years at the Sun Sentinel, Craig Davis has written about a wide variety of sports topics from baseball to yachting, fishing to triathlons, and also worked as a copy editor and page designer. Recently he reported on local sports, including running, swimming, cycling, equestrian and beach volleyball. He enjoys sports as a participant as well as a spectator, is active in the South Florida running scene plays in the curling club at Saveology Iceplex. This blog offers a glimpse at the business side of sports in the interest of enhancing enjoyment of the games and sporting options as a spectator as well as a participant.
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