Miami-Dade County fell short by $6.2 million in its effort to sell bonds for a new Marlins ballpark Tuesday, but site preparation work is expected to begin Wednesday morning at the former location of the Orange Bowl.
Although the shortfall in the bond sale threw the ballpark deal into disarray for several hours Tuesday night and into early Wednesday, the deal appeared to be back on track, after the Marlins agreed to fill the gap should the dollars be needed to complete the 37,000-seat retractable roof ballpark.
The commission debated from about 7 to 9 p.m. and then what was meant to be a 45-minute break stretched on for three and a half hours. The commission finally returned at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday and voted 9-3 for changes that will allow the deal to move forward. Commissioners approved three items, including agreeing to a higher interest rate on the some of the bonds and adjusting the county's commitment to the project to $341 million down from $347 million.
Earlier in the evening, County Manager George Burgess told commissioners the county had planned to sell $306 million in bonds, but fell short by about $6.2 million and a portion of the bonds were set at a higher interest rate than the county had expected. That means the county’s commitment to payments will remain the same, but the gap needed filling. Neither the county, nor city were willing to step up, Burgess said.
“At end of the day, we’re extraordinarily close,” Burgess told commissioners. “We’ve had conversations with the team. My ask of them was, ‘If we’re short, are you prepared to be able to cover the difference’?”
Marlins President David Samson insisted the team would -- and the public would not be asked to put more into the deal.
“We made a commitment in March," Samson said. "That commitment was there would be a certain amount of money the public would be committing and not one dollar more.”
Worried construction workers would not be able to begin working, Samson said the team would cover any additional costs.
“If this building costs $515 million, the team will put in what’s required,” Samson said. “If it costs $512 million that is what the team will do.”
You can see equipment on the site via the team’s ballpark webcam. A formal ground-breaking is scheduled on July 18.
Not to get too technical here, but while the bonds backed by the professional sports franchise facilities tax portion of the hotel tax were sold at a lower interest rate than anticipated, those backed by the Convention Development portion of the hotel tax were set at a higher rate. The “blended rate” of the two taxes fell within the county’s 7.5 percent cap, but the commission needed to sign off on the higher cap of 8.2 percent for the CDT-backed bonds.
Some commissioners worried about encumbering more taxpayer dollars, tapping into the county’s general fund if hotel dollars fall short during the life of the deal, and continuing to adjust a deal that has dogged them for years, but may finally result in a ground-breaking in a few weeks.
Commissioner Sally Heyman wanted Samson to agree to cover the $6 million shortfall rather than agreeing to cover any additional costs. Commissioner Katy Sorenson worried the county didn’t bargain hard enough while the deal was being negotiated.
“We can see clearly the Marlins have more to give and clearly have had more to give all along and it’s an example of why we can see this isn’t such a great deal for our constituents,” Sorenson said.