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Miami-Dade predicts $100 million shortfall in funding for Marlins stadium
MIAMI · Concerned about the escalating and uncertain costs of a new stadium for the Florida Marlins, several Miami-Dade County commissioners said Wednesday the county can't contribute any more time or money to the project.
With County Manager George Burgess estimating the funding gap at up to $100 million, commissioners said it is now up to the Marlins to decide whether they can build a 38,000-seat ballpark east of the Orange Bowl without more public dollars or whether they are willing to scale it back, perhaps building it initially without a roof.
"I don't think we want to go forward any more. The costs are only going to get worse; they are only going to escalate," Commissioner Carlos Gimenez said.
Gimenez, who served as Miami city manager when the Marlins' previous ownership tried to finance a stadium in 2001, called the team's construction cost estimates of $360 million to $390 million "crazy" and far less than projected four years ago.
Marlins executives declined comment but have repeatedly said they will not support building a stadium without a roof.
Commissioner Dennis Moss also said he didn't trust the cost figures.
"We may just need to back off this right now," Moss said. "The county has put a lot of effort into stepping up to the plate."
Burgess told commissioners, who were meeting Wednesday as the Intergovernmental, Recreation and Cultural Affairs committee, he thought the Marlins' stadium cost estimates could be off by $50 million to $100 million.
Committee Chairwoman Sally Heyman was willing to give the ballpark plan "one last shot," but no more dollars. She asked Burgess to meet with the city and team and develop a "final report" on the project to be brought back to the County Commission at its Oct. 12 meeting.Miami city officials reiterated they have no more to contribute. The county and city together have pledged $166 million in tourist taxes to the project, and the team agreed to pay $192 million, mainly in rent payments.But that plan also relied on a state sales tax rebate, which legislators did not approve this spring. Without those funds, the project was delayed until 2009 at the earliest and the funding gap has continued to grow.
State Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, who successfully championed the sales tax rebate for the Marlins in the state House -- it got hung up in the Senate -- this spring, said Wednesday he would save a place among his allotted bills for the Marlins if they want to pursue state funding next year.
Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who walked the halls of the state Capitol pushing for the state funds, said the city and county have done all they can.
"The process is ongoing, nobody has pulled the plug," Diaz said, but he didn't sound optimistic about new solutions.
Diaz and some county commissioners said the easiest option might be building the stadium without a roof, but providing the ability for one to be added later. A roof is estimated to cost $80 million to $100 million.
Diaz does not support a proposal to tear down the Orange Bowl and build a ballpark on that site. That option would reduce the amount of property the city and county would need to acquire for a ballpark, but would require the Hurricanes to move to Dolphins Stadium, something neither Miami politicians nor the University of Miami support.Other options Burgess outlined for filling the gap include asking county voters to approve a half- or full-penny sales tax for a year to raise $160 million to $320 million. Burgess said a special election would cost the county about $2.5 million.
Tallahassee Bureau Chief Linda Kleindienst contributed to this report.
Sarah Talalay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.