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Miami Marlins Keep Lying About Stadium

It's the bottom of the ninth, and as usual, the Marlins are about to lose. Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel zips a fastball past a befuddled Miami hitter, notching another strike on the way to a 3-0 Braves shutout.

Just outside the center-field bathrooms, Steve Corbin clutches a Jose Reyes bobblehead to his chest, squints at the field, and shakes his head in disgust. The bald fan in a Marlins T-shirt has rooted for the Fish since the team opened up shop in Miami Gardens in 1993. This year, he's had time to see a dozen games at the team's gleaming new Little Havana stadium.

"The ballpark is great," Corbin says. Then he sighs heavily. "I just wish they hadn't completely screwed over taxpayers to build this thing."

Before the park opened, our sister paper Miami New Times counted down the six biggest lies the team's owners told to sell what we predicted would be the "worst deal for taxpayers of any stadium in America." Those falsehoods included absurd promises that the stadium would revitalize Little Havana, bogus pledges that fans would flock to games, and laughable claims that the Marlins would go bankrupt without the deal.

Now, as the team's first season on NW Sixth Street draws to a close this week, it's time to look back and confidently declare: This stadium has been a fiasco for the ages.

From dismal attendance to terrible baseball to none of the promised business impact on its struggling neighborhood, Marlins Park has tanked worse than chubby closer Heath Bell huffing and puffing through another blown save.

"The stadium has done nothing for the City of Miami," Little Havana activist Yvonne Bayona says. "Their promises were lies. This deal wasn't to benefit us; it was to benefit the team's owners."

Let's walk through the numbers that prove Marlins Park is South Florida's scam of the century:

Zero: Stadium revenue the Miami Marlins shared with Miami-Dade taxpayers — you know, the chumps who chipped in more than 70 percent of the $515 million cost to build the damned thing. Instead of revenue-sharing, Miami-Dade County has gotten a measly $2.3 million in rent, plus $40,000 toward building some new youth fields. The city — which floated $100 million in bonds — gets a whopping $10 per parking space at the team's garages plus $25,000 toward new parks.

One: Sellouts the team managed all year in its palacio de béisbol. The lone full house came opening night with the reigning World Series champs, the St. Louis Cardinals, in town. Jets boomed overhead, and former boxer Muhammad Ali shakily threw out the first pitch.

12: Of 16 National League teams, that's where the Marlins ranked in attendance. Team owner Jeffrey Loria promised that a retractable roof, air conditioning, and a home-run sculpture fit for a Timothy Leary class at Harvard would lure spectators in droves, yet the Fish are outdrawing only perennial dogs Pittsburgh, Arizona, and San Diego and the 100-plus-loss, historically bad Houston Astros.

One: New businesses that activists say have opened around the park. Politicos, such as then-Miami Commissioner Joe Sanchez, promised time and again the stadium would bring "economic vitality" to a desolate edge of Little Havana that was left to rot after the Orange Bowl's demolition. Instead, the neighborhood has been treated to a single sports bar at NW 17th Avenue and Seventh Street, the Batting Cage, says Bayona. "It's still a ghost town when there's no game."

500,000: That's how many fewer fans flooded Little Havana to watch Loria's team this year than the Marlins owner had projected to deliver in the stadium's inaugural season. "Essentially, they spent $500 million and only lured a few hundred thousand extra fans," says Neil deMause, author of Field of Schemes, a book about modern stadium deals. "They could have just stood outside and handed out five-dollar bills to get people in the gates and accomplished about the same thing for a hell of a lot less cash."

Zero: Businesses that set up shop in the retail spaces inside Marlins Park's garages during the season. One selling point to the city in exchange for $100 million was that an "entertainment district" would pop up in the garages. So far, the city has zilch to show for that promise. Commissioner Frank Carollo claims the city is close to signing a lease with the Tilted Kilt, a sports bar staffed by scantily clad women. Art Noriega, chief executive officer of the Miami Parking Authority, tells New Times that a cigar company has signed a contract to open by next season. But Horacio Stuart Aguirre, chairman of the Miami River Commission, thinks other types of tenants — urgent care clinics and immigration attorneys — are more likely to lease at this point. "The whole thing was done badly," he told the Miami Herald last month.

2.2 million: Fans who passed through the turnstiles this year, the lowest season total for a team opening a new park since the 1982 Minnesota Twins, according to Forbes. Yeah, it's a nice boost from the bottom-of-the-barrel 1.5 million the team drew in its final year at Sun Life Stadium. But bragging about beating that total would be like taking pride in posting a better batting average than John Buck.

$38 million: Payroll Loria dumped by the end of July by shipping off Hanley Ramirez. Before the season, the Marlins owner upped their payroll to $95 million to help pay for stars Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle and Manager Ozzie Guillen. The spree came after being shamed by leaked financial documents showing he'd banked nearly $50 million in profit while pleading poverty. How? By taking the millions that richer baseball teams share with minnows like the Marlins and then putting them in his wallet instead of buying new sluggers. So much for the new Loria. With the season slipping, he shipped Ramirez, ace pitcher Anibal Sanchez, hot second-baseman Omar Infante, and set-up guy Edward Mujica out of town. Even worse, he's already promised that next year's team budget will be even lower.

$90 million: Increased value of the Marlins franchise this year, according to Forbes. If you pass through Southampton, New York, this fall and hear an ear-shattering cackling coming from a massive mansion, don't worry: It's just Loria rolling around naked in giant piles of cash. The team he bought for $158 million in 2002 is now worth $450 million, by Forbes' reckoning.

One: Protests by anti-Castro groups outside Marlins Park. After Guillen decided to celebrate his move to Little Havana by telling Time magazine he "respects" El Comandante, almost 200 hardliners wailed into megaphones and waved flags outside the team's second homestand.

52: Times that Red Grooms' eyeball-scorching sculpture in center field — nicknamed the "Tremenda Mierda Fountain" by New Times readers in an online poll — erupted with water spouts and flailing dolphins for Marlins home runs (as of Monday). Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that the Fish were 25th out of 30 teams in homers.

$2.4 billion: Estimated total cost to taxpayers, including ballooning interest rates, for Marlins Park.

Back at the team's penultimate home game last month, after the Marlins' final batter obediently grounded out to second to end another dismal night, black-clad fans shuffled toward the exits, happy at least to have gotten a bobblehead out of the game.

Locals have a hard time finding the good in the giant silver-and-white elephant looming over their blue-collar blocks, though. As the season winds down, residents like Ines Machado — who for 35 years has lived in a two-story home a block north of the stadium — can hardly turn a blind eye to the taxpayer-bleeding succubus looming outside her window. "I used to charge $70 a car to park on my lawn for Orange Bowl games. This place?" she says, gesturing at the ballpark. "This place has done nothing for us."

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Tim Elfrink is an award-winning investigative reporter, the managing editor of the Miami New Times and the co-author of "Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez and the Quest to End Baseball's Steroid Era." Since 2008, he's written in-depth pieces on police corruption, fatal shootings and social justice issues across South Florida. He's won the George Polk Award and has been a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink

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