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.