Bring Us the Ballpark
Miami is the past. Overdeveloped. Underclothed. Full of itself. It doesn't deserve baseball.
Broward and Palm Beach counties are the future. Forward-looking. More cosmopolitan. Their bases are loaded with billionaires.
Club President Dave Samson is oblivious. Rename 'em the "Miami Marlins," he says. The "economics don't work" in Broward even though it is smack in the middle of the fan base, he adds.
Listen up, Dave: We are prepared to abandon our beloved World Series winners if they abandon us.
There are fully 20 percent more fans in Broward and Palm Beach counties than in Miami-Dade, according to the Marlins' own numbers. There are better sites for a ballpark. And there could be more money available.
But wait a a minute. Maybe the problem isn't just newcomer Dave's ignorance. Perhaps what's driving the team south is Broward commissioners' lack of vision. Rather than try to steer the stadium to a place that's convenient to their Fish-crazy constituents, they ponder only the preponderance of problems.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle can't imagine a team in his city. What would it be called? "The Fort Lauderdale Fish?" he muses. "The Hollywood Halibut... I'm supportive of downtown Miami."
Commissioner Lori Parrish doesn't want to help with a new arena "due to the debt of the Panther arena."
And Commissioner John Rodstrom responded to a query about the Marlins' stadium with a daffy diatribe against Major League baseball. "Personally, I have deep concerns regarding funding any sports facility until baseball deals with salary caps and parity," Rodstrom says. "Without those changes, the long-term viability of this project remains in question."
How about the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce? If you can find a local booster anywhere, it should be there. But a guy who answered the phone was alarmed when asked whether the Marlins should be in Broward. He didn't want to talk about a stadium here, didn't want to be quoted, and refused to give his name or put another chamber visionary on the line. "It's good where it is, close to the county line," the man growled, referring to Pro Player Stadium. "You're in Palm Beach County anyway. What do you care?" (By the way, boy-o, New Times is located in downtown Fort Lauderdale.)
There is but one local pol who isn't crazy, risk-averse, or anonymously error-ridden. Commissioner Ben Graber says that he and two colleagues, Jim Scott and Josephus Eggelletion, are supportive of a Broward ballpark. "A stadium would make sense in Broward," Graber comments. "It is the center of the three counties. So far, though, there has been no commitment from our County Commission. I think that could be part of it."
Miami's hokey plan for financing a new ballpark would include about $73 million in local funding and a boatload from state taxpayers for a $325 million park. Clue: That means Broward and Palm Beach pick up the tab. These South Floridians comprise almost 20 percent of the state's population and pay an even higher proportion of taxes.
Broward could put up more for the park than this. How? The county could raise $158 million by adding another penny to its tourist tax. That would be only half as much as the tax increase for the Office Depot Center. Indeed, at present, Broward County has a five-cent tourist tax and Miami-Dade has a six-cent tax, says Phillip Allen, Broward's chief financial officer. And once the county finishes paying off a beach renourishment project, it will have an additional $3.6 million per year that could be used to borrow an additional $36 million.
The total: $194 million.
And Broward could more cheaply borrow the money. The county has a Double A-plus bond rating, compared to Miami-Dade's Double A-minus.
And the best site for the park has more baseball history than anywhere in South Florida: Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Built in 1961 as a spring training site for the New York Yankees, it was for 34 years the home park to Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Reggie Jackson. "We never should have let the Yankees get away," says Vince Gizzi, superintendent of special facilities for the City of Fort Lauderdale. "They were good for Fort Lauderdale." And then, of course, there was that unstoppable Baltimore Oriole, Cal Ripken.
Gizzi thinks the stadium site would be perfect for the Marlins. It's close to Commercial Boulevard, I-95, and the Florida Turnpike, he says. And there's plenty of land. It includes more than 70 acres. Build a parking garage for cars, Gizzi says, and it would work. "Broward would be the best location for them," Gizzi says of the Marlins. "I think it would be wonderful."
Plus, the City Commission doesn't seem all that committed to keeping the Baltimore Orioles at the stadium for spring training. Commissioners have said they will shut down the 8,340-seat stadium on April 30 unless a private contractor takes over management of the facility, which operates at a $300,000 deficit. If someone steps forward -- and the city has had a couple of nibbles -- the new manager would have to spend about $5 million in the next five years on maintenance.
Fort Lauderdale Stadium doesn't work for you, huh, Dave Samson? So you want to take advantage of all that free money offered by Miami-Dade? Graber, the one sane man in leadership, has an idea for you. "The ideal thing would be for Dade and Broward to get together somewhere like Pro Player [located smack on the county line] and get both counties involved," he says. "And then we could call them the Fort Lauderdale Marlins. Yeah, that sounds very good. I think the partnership concept would work."
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