The Marlins scored a huge victory Tuesday when Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen ruled their ballpark serves a “paramount public purpose” – meaning public dollars can be used to help build it.
The team, Miami-Dade County and city of Miami believe the ruling in the case filed by auto dealer Norman Braman targeting the financing for $3 billion in Miami projects, including the ballpark, means they can move ahead with their plans for the $515 million stadium at the site of the former Orange Bowl.
They plan to step up negotiations of definitive construction, financing and other documents so they can bring them to city and county commissioners in the coming weeks. And the team says it will finally be able to share new renderings of the ballpark soon.
“We welcome Judge Cohen’s ruling, which confirms that our elected officials have made the right decision for the future of our community. It is unfortunate that so much time and so much of the public’s money has been wasted in this legal process,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said in a statement. “This is a critical step in securing the long-term future of Major League Baseball in Miami. We will proceed immediately to finalize discussions with the County and the City to put in place all the long-awaited final agreements.”
Interestingly, Cohen's ruling indicated that she understood the ballpark issue is "contentious and emotional," but acknowledged it was the court's role to apply the law, not sentiment.
"While the Court agrees with Plaintiff that the Marlins are getting what amounts to a “sweet deal,” this is, put bluntly, not the business of this Court," Cohen wrote in her 41-page ruling. Read the ruling here.
The team would like to begin construction by year’s end and open the 37,000-seat retractable roof ballpark in 2011. That time frame is getting exceedingly unlikely, but hasn’t been written off yet.
“Our plan is to recommend to the board that we proceed as we’ve always intended,” Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess said. “We’re happy about the project … We’re committed to a project and if you’re confident in your position, why would you stop?”
Braman, however, plans to continue his legal fight, taking his case to appellate court.
“We’re disappointed in the judge’s ruling, but not that surprised by it,” Braman said. “We’re going to be appealing the judge’s decision, we’re optimistic we’re going to prevail on appeal. This is the first round of a fight, that we expected would last beyond the lower court.”
Braman said he will take the case to appellate court and even as far as the Florida Supreme Court, if necessary.
He also quoted Winston Churchill as saying “Never, never, never, never, never, never surrender your principles. Fight on.”
Besides, he said, “This is the end of the third inning of a nine-inning game. It’s got six more innings to go.”
Among the items Braman is referring to is the one remaining count in his case on which Cohen has yet to rule: whether a portion of the financing for the $3 billion in city projects must go to a vote of the public.
Cohen said she will not rule until after Sept. 15, as she is waiting for the Florida Supreme Court to rule on similar cases.
But the team, city and county say that ruling is immaterial to the ballpark since the financing for the venue does not rely on property taxes.
Braman, however, disagrees. He believes the entire financing package for the Miami projects must go to public referendum.
Burgess and Marlins President David Samson say the referendum question is unrelated to the ballpark.
“All I can say is he can avail himself of whatever legal process is his right,” Samson said. “As far as we’re concerned this is the right result. We’re very confident it will be upheld at any and all appellate levels.”
Braman was not shocked to learn the team plans to move forward.
“There’s nothing here that surprises me,” Braman said. “They still have to get bonding. If they get someone silly enough to get them bonding, if they’re willing to take that risk, that’s their problem, not mine.”