South Florida Economy Needs Miami-flavored Marlins Park to be a Tourist Homer

By: Jim Turner | Posted: March 31, 2012 5:00 AM
Miami Marlins Stadium
There have already been complaints from those in Little Havana that they haven’t seen the promised benefits from the construction of a salsa-pulsating $640 million, retractable-roof stadium that replaced the Orange Bowl and dwarfs their community.

Miami and Miami-Dade taxpayers will see an amortized tax of $2.4 billion over 40 years due to the local contributions into the construction of Marlins Park that is still in search of a corporate sponsor.

Government officials continue to complain about the lack of adequate public transportation to the ballpark. And the anticipated griping is expected to grow as there is no direct access off I-95 to the park and the limited parking forces fans to park off-site, with local vendor 717 Parking Enterprises selling spots outside businesses such as Walgreens for $32.49 per car.

The question is, will the pessimism and concerns about costs change to optimism as excitement grows for an improved collection of players for the 2012 season once they take the field for a two-game tune-up with the New York Yankees Sunday and Monday for next week’s home opener.

City and county leaders, decrying they were duped into making massive fiscal contributions to a team that was thought to be financially struggling and on the verge of relocating, now must hope fans flock to a complex that features aquarium backstops and a massively colorful water-gushing, marlin-dancing homer sculpture beyond the left-center field wall.

More importantly, they need the fans to head out into the city and county, spend money in local establishments before and after each game, and stay at area hotels.

Carlos Gimenez

Carlos Gimenez

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who voted against the park, told the Miami Herald on March 12 that “despite his opposition from the dais, it is in the county’s best interest for the now-built stadium to flourish.”

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, who also voted against the fiscal deal and doesn’t plan to attend the home opener, was more direct Friday, saying the park is the money pit he worried about.

“I wish them luck, I think it’s a beautiful stadium,” Regalado said.  But “we gave away the land, we built the parking structures, we paid for the infrastructure, and our police force cannot work off-duty in the stadium. So we end up with the short end of the stick in this case.”

The city and county have put up $640 million for the land and construction costs, while the Marlins, which received $43 million in luxury taxes in the 2008 and 2009 season when the stadium deal was hammered out, contributed $155 million.

To recoup its money, the city and county are banking on tourist tax dollars to pay off bonds.

Regalado said the stadium isn’t seen as a tourism driver.

“Stadiums are not a tourism engine, the locals are the ones who attend,” Regalado said. “It’s a beautiful stadium. Very luxurious. And the only way it would bring tourism is if we got into the playoffs. We are already struggling to pay the bonds. Tourism does not depend on the stadium."

Pat Santangelo, spokesman for the mayor’s office, noted that in trying to create a parking lot for area residents who will be displaced due to the stadium parking requires $20,000 which the city and county don’t have.

Also, starting next year, the city will have to pay $250,000 for annual maintenance “and we don’t own the stadium,” Regalado said.

The city and county have also found it would be a local ethics commission violation to use the luxury suites that were part of the construction contract, and the Marlins have declined to buy back the suites, Regalado said.

The city also awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s signature on a tax break on the parking decks -- 5,700 spaces that cost $104 million to build -- that would save $2 million a year. Legislators approved the tax break as part of a fiscal plan approved in the waning minutes of the regular session on March 9.

Finding projected economic impact figures for the stadium is just as tough.

Miami-Dade County officials declined commenting on the potential economic impacts, and city officials said they haven’t seen any.

Calls to the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce this past week were not returned.

The Marlins provided a statement declaring that once the park is in use, “nonlocal visitor expenditures and other activities occurring in the ballpark will produce significant economic benefits for the Miami economy on an ongoing basis, including full-time employment opportunities, yearly fiscal revenue, as well as increased economic output.”

The statement continues that “Jewel Events” such as hosting the Major League All-Star Game or World Series would bring $50 million to $60 million.

History has shown that building a fancy new ballpark doesn’t equate into long-term increases in attendance numbers.

A study by Washington University Economics Professor Ron Kamara found winning and prior year’s attendance is more important in projecting ticket sales than a new sports palace. The first year, with the new park an event, per game attendance increases a little more than 10,000 per game from the prior year, with the growth nearly cut in half the second year and down nearly 2,000 more the following year, Kamara’s study stated.

The stadium has received praise from those who have had a chance to take the field.

After a March 6 exhibition game against the University of Miami Hurricanes, veteran outfielder Aaron Rowand enjoyed the sound of the ball as it echoed from both wood and aluminum bats off the roof.

"It's just as nice as -- if not nicer than -- any park in the league," Rowand told the AP. "It's a state-of-the-art park."

Several local teams, including the Marlins, have already played in the 37,000-seat stadium that is expected to keep the pro team that has played its prior 18 seasons of home games in the football-friendly, currently-named Sun Life Stadium in South Florida.

Sun Life has also been known as Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphin Stadium, Dolphins Stadium, and Land Shark Stadium.

The Marlins official home opener in Marlin Park is April 4 against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Besides the much-talked-about homer sculpture and retractable roof, the stadium also features a 360-degree concourse that will allow fans to cruise the food and souvenir shops without missing the action on the field, while a view of the Miami skyline to the east will be available beyond the west field stands.

Team President David Samson told the Sun-Sentinel that the stadium incorporates Miami’s unique qualities.

"Everywhere you look, it's things that, if they were anywhere else, people would say, 'You can't do that.' In Miami, people say, 'Oh, that's Miami. You have to take advantage of where you are.' So we did," Samson told the Sentinel.

Construction costs:
$640 million; includes retractable roof that added $130 million to the cost and $104 million for the four parking decks. The city donated the land. The Marlins, which received $43 million in luxury taxes in the 2008 and 2009 season when the stadium deal was hammered out, contributed $155 million. The city and county covered the rest through bonds that are to be paid off through tourist tax dollars.

Along Northwest 3rd Street, west of downtown Miami, the stadium stands on the site of the former Miami Orange Bowl in Little Havana.

Ticket prices for 37,000 seats (approximately):
Prices range from $10 for seats beyond the outfield on weekdays against low-profile opponents to $250 for seats behind home plate that come with full food and beverage service during premium games. There are 47 luxury suites that cost from $8,000 a game up to $250,000 a year.

Stadium design:
Left-field line: 340 feet. Left-center power alley: 420 feet. Center-field: 416 feet. Right-enter power alley: 392 feet. Right-field line: 335 feet. HD video/scoreboard: 101 feet wide by 51 feet tall. Three-panel retractable roof takes 13 minutes to open or close. Twin 450-gallon saltwater aquariums both sides of the backstop that use bulletproof glass. Retractable outfield glass panels open to provide panoramic view of Miami skyline. Beyond outfield wall, $2.5 million, 75-foot-tall multicolored artwork that features moving waves, marlins, seagulls and flamingos when a Marlin homers. Taste of Miami food court featuring three restaurants: Latin American Grill, Pap Llega Y Pon and Don Camaron.

Miami Marlins Timeline:

June 10, 1991: National League awards billionaire Wayne Huizenga, for $95 million, an expansion club over the efforts from Tampa Bay.

April 5, 1993, Marlins win their first game 6-3 before 42,334 at Joe Robbie Stadium against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The win highlighted a season that ended 64-98, five games ahead of the last place New York Mets, playing before 3,064,847.

Oct. 26, 1997: Edgar Rentería's soft liner off the glove of Cleveland pitcher Charles Nagy in the bottom of the 11th gives the Marlins their first World Series title.

Nov. 7, 1998: After dismantling the team following the 1997 World Series victory, Huizenga sells the club following a team record low 54-108 record to commodities trader John Henry for $158 million. Attendance dipped from 2,364,387 in 1997 to 1,730,384 in 1998.

Nov. 15, 2002: Art dealer Jeffery Loria sells the Montreal Expos for $120 million to Major League Baseball in exchange for purchasing the Marlins for $158.5 million from Henry. The deal included a $38.5 million no-interest loan from Major League Baseball.

Oct. 25, 2003: The Marlins defeat the New York Yankees 2-0 at Yankee Stadium for the team’s second World Series title. The team attracted 1,303,215 fans during the regular season, up from a club record low of 813,118 in 2002.

March 19, 2009: Miami commissioners Joe Sanchez, Angel Gonzalez and Michelle Spence-Jones approved building the new stadium in a 3–2 vote, with commissioner Marc Sarnoff joining the majority to approve a bid waiver for a private contractor to work around the facility. As part of the deal, the team agrees to change its name to Miami Marlins in 2012.

Sept. 28, 2011: The Florida Marlins dropped a 3-1 game to the Washington Nationals in their final home game at Sun Life Stadium. The game attracted 34,615 fans, bringing the season home attendance to 1,520,562, earning the club its 11th consecutive season ranked 26th or higher in attendance.

April 4, 2012: The Miami Marlins play their first game in the 37,000-seat Marlins Park against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

Comments (2)

Robert Lloyd
8:25AM APR 2ND 2012
Theft by the government to further enrich the rich. So many people can't afford to pay their rent/mortgage and yet have to give up their own money and build a playground for millionaires.

There WILL be a revolution coming.
Jeff Willis
9:53AM MAR 31ST 2012
"If you build it, they will come."

They built it! Now watch them come! This will be hailed as one of the great accomplishments.

Leave a Comment on This Story

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.