As my regular readers know, I gave up handicapping whether the ballpark project will happen several years ago. I have been covering this for too many years and seen too many bizarre things – especially Friday’s Miami City Commission meeting – to know for sure what will happen.
But let’s re-cap and explore some of what occurred:
Approval?: The Miami City Commission might have passed the Marlins’ $515 million ballpark financing plan on Friday, had Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones been present. Spence-Jones, who is on maternity leave and was absent Friday, has supported the ballpark project in the past. That’s no guarantee, but it’s a possibility. Still Commissioner Marc Sarnoff may have raised his concerns (more on this later) about wanting to exact more protections for the public -- and in the process given some commissioners pause.
Even if the deal had passed at the city, Miami-Dade County Commissioners were prepared with their own questions and perhaps even more demands. Among concerns of both city and county commissioners is that general fund revenue could be tapped, should hotel bed tax dollars fall short. General fund dollars are listed as the secondary pledge – as a backstop – for repaying bonds. City, county and team officials have said they do not intend – ever – to tap the general fund.
At the county, provisions are being made to pull a few items that need a super-majority – or nine of 13 votes – from the ballpark agreements, so that a simple majority of seven votes can pass the ballpark contracts. The nine votes would be needed for items such as waiving competitive bidding procedures for the contract for the street and sewer work at the ballpark.
Jobs and public testimony: Before city commissioners began their debate Friday, 36 members of the public spoke. More were in favor than opposed, but both sides were represented. Many of the people who spoke in favor of the stadium, including those representing labor unions, pleaded for the construction jobs it would create during the next three years. The jobs at a new stadium have been in question since most of the jobs at Dolphin Stadium during Marlins games would just be moved to the new ballpark.
Here’s what Marlins President David Samson said about jobs: “I believe and I continue to believe this deal makes sense from the city’s standpoint and the county’s standpoint, and for every single person in South Florida whether you’re a baseball fan or not, the community needs these jobs. It was loud and clear. There can be a debate as to the type of jobs, but the community needs it.”
Opponents questioned such a large public outlay of tax dollars during a recession, whether the money should be spent on other projects, the types of jobs being created, and padding the pockets of private business.
Sarnoff’s demands: The stadium contracts up for votes on Friday were produced as a result of the “Baseball Stadium Agreement” (BSA) – a document the city and county commissions approved a year ago that covered the ballpark project in principle. The contracts are the fine details of that agreement that spell out precisely how to finance, construct, and insure the ballpark, keep the Marlins from re-locating for the 35-year life of the agreement and build the parking garages and lots. The contracts modified some of the items in the BSA, but the BSA always contemplated naming rights proceeds would go the Marlins. The Marlins have sought a new ballpark for years to be able to control their own revenue, so they can put more dollars into the team’s payroll.
The timing of Sarnoff’s demands is what blindsided many at city hall Friday.
For his part, Sarnoff says the dais at city hall is his place to make demands, not in meetings or negotiations ahead of time. Sarnoff said city administrators negotiate a deal they think is fair and then the “baton gets passed” to the city commission.
His demands were aimed at protecting the city and its taxpayers. He wanted the team to help cover cost overruns incurred if the cost for building the parking lots exceeds $94 million. Samson said the team would cap the parking at $94 million, even if that results in fewer than 5,500 spots.
Sarnoff wants naming rights split by the city and county to help them repay the bonds they issue for the ballpark.
And if the team is sold within 10 years, Sarnoff wants all the profits shared with the city and the county since it’s the public’s commitment to building a ballpark that will increase the value of the team.
“I just don’t think it’s taxpayers’ job to enhance a man’s asset,” Sarnoff said. “It’s not taxpayers’ job to increase the franchise value. And if the franchise value right now is $300 million and it goes up to $600 million, it seems to me the taxpayers should benefit from that franchise increase in the event of a flip.”
Sarnoff said if Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has no intention of selling the team, he should agree to the profit-sharing language. Historically, sports team owners make money when they sell. See Dave Hyde’s column for more on this subject.
The contract does call for the Marlins to share profits if the team is sold, but within seven years and at a far lower and decreasing rate – 18 percent in the first year to 5 percent in the seventh. (The BSA had a five-year schedule that started at 10 percent, so the terms did get stronger).
Samson said the team couldn’t agree to those demands, but would be willing to renegotiate the deal, as long as the entire agreements is reopened.
For comparison purposes, profit-sharing – or sales kickers – are rare. In Washington, DC, the Nationals agreed to share profits if the team were sold after the city agreed to spend $600 million for the ballpark. That provision has already expired. In Minnesota, as part of their ballpark deal, the Twins agreed to share profits if the team is sold.
(By the way, just as an aside: did it look to anyone else like Sarnoff might be auditioning for a run at the mayor's seat? Already Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez and Commissioner Tomas Regalado are running to replace Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, when his term is complete. Sanchez even accused Regalado of campaigning at the dais during Friday's meeting).
What’s next?: The city commission has continued its meeting until March 12, but it’s possible a meeting could be held sooner. Samson said the city and the county will hold their meetings on separate days to avoid what happened Friday, when the city commission meeting ran long and those at the county, were left waiting before the county meeting was called off.
Samson said he believes a deal can still be struck. Read Juan Rodriguez’s piece from Sunday where Samson spoke on the first day of spring training at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.
On Friday, when he met with the media, Samson said, “Any speculation that you hear that the ballpark deal is off, any speculation you hear that the team or county or city is fighting or anything, that is not the case. What you are hearing from me today is we are trying to figure out the best way to have a deal that makes sense for the county and the team, and we will continue to work toward that. And the minute we can no longer work toward that, is the minute I will tell all of our fans, that it’s over. And that day is not today.”
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