Fish Bait

Baseball in Broward is possible, if we didn't have to deal with these bloodsuckers

"We get a little parking, little concessions, but very little," Marlins President David Samson told me.

He wouldn't tell me how much, but it's been estimated at $5 million, a paltry sum. Any way you cut it, the team is in a terrible place right now — the cold clutches of Huizenga.

The Marlins really do need a new stadium, and it made sense when they went to Miami to try to get one there. But guess what? Miami-Dade County couldn't get the much-needed tax subsidy from the state because Huizenga is still collecting that $60 million for the same team.

Before Jeffrey Loria looks for greener pastures, let's hit him with a proposal.
Gary I. Rothstein
Before Jeffrey Loria looks for greener pastures, let's hit him with a proposal.

He's getting a $167,000 check this month from the state for a team he hasn't owned since 1999. And we can't stop that money from going to him. You know why? He rigged the system to make it legal.

Are you feeling this yet? It's a slow crawl, a creeping dread. It's Huizenga fever.

Now the conventional wisdom is to build a new baseball stadium near the Broward-Miami line on land next to Dolphins Stadium. Guess who owns it. C'mon, you know the answer.

Huizenga himself. It's the fever, baby.

It would be a huge mistake to build on that land, and not just because of the owner. The site is out west in sprawl-land without an urban core nearby. It's an event locale made for football, a destination for leisurely, tailgating Sunday drives. Baseball is played after work, when only the most ardent fans want to drive to the county line to see games on a regular basis.

Yes, a spanking new stadium will help to bring out bigger crowds, but once the novelty wears off, the franchise will be left with the same old low attendance numbers.

Samson insists it can be anywhere in South Florida. He's wrong. It's got to be tied to a downtown to really thrive. And with Miami kaput, Fort Lauderdale is the last great hope. It not only has a solid working population to draw from but it's also dead center of the 7.5 million people in the tricounty area.

The best possible site is Broward Boulevard and Interstate 95, which has been in the news — and in this space — quite a bit lately. It's where the county is planning an office compound that is rife with insider dealings and corruption.

The property has special I-95 exits that nobody currently uses, a Tri-Rail station, and a state-owned parking lot. The picturesque north fork of the New River runs through it, and as the gateway to Fort Lauderdale, it's a two-mile straight shot from downtown.

It's as close to perfect as you're ever going to get. But guess who messed up just about any chance that Broward will finance a baseball stadium?

You feel a cold sweat coming on?

It's Huizenga. He struck a sweetheart deal with Broward County in the late '90s to build a hockey palace for yet another of his teams at the time, the Florida Panthers. You know the place. I believe it's called the National Car Office BankAtlantic Depot Center. It cost $185 million and sits out on the edge of the Everglades where nobody really sees it these days but fans of bad hockey and Celine Dion.

That's right: We traded America's pastime for Canada's.

Huizenga talked the County Commission (John Rodstrom, take a bow) into funding the whole thing with hotel bed taxes. At the time, the county projected that it would reap profits from the place — somewhere between $1 million and $6 million a year. The only problem was that H. talked the commission into letting the Panthers pocket the first $14 million each year.

Guess what? The stadium has received more than $50 million in profits, and the county, which paid for the whole damned thing, has gotten a whopping $300,000-plus over six years.

So what does that mean? Well, the good old bed tax — which primarily burdens tourists — is tapped out. So the only way Broward could finance baseball is through a general-obligation bond that must be approved by the voters.

That's you.

So let's do the numbers. A 38,000-seat retractable stadium, all things included, would run at least $450 million, probably more.

Samson says the team was willing to put $30 million upfront for the busted Miami deal and pay rents to the county starting at $11 million annually for 38 years. That's enough to pay the debt service for $182 million worth of construction, according to Samson.

That same commitment would leave Broward with about $238 million to finance by itself. Using the same figures above, the tax burden would be something like $15 million a year.

Forget it, Loria. At that price, you can take your wannabe billionaire ass back to Montreal.

The only way voters will press "yes" for this thing is if they're equal partners in the stadium. The day a new stadium is completed, Loria is going to be at least $150 million richer. That's why $30 million upfront is chump change. He doles out $75 million at the start, minimum.

If the stadium's pulling in, say, $30 million in profits (which is a conservative estimate considering other parks), then the county should get an even split of that money until the debt is paid. That's $15 million for the county in rent, not $11 million. The stadium will likely pull in a minimum of $2 million a year for naming rights, probably more. The Marlins weren't giving any naming rights money to Miami. They will in Broward.

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