The Marlins’ new home, courtesy of taxpayers

April 4, 2012

Kevin Grey of Reuters wrote a delightful piece describing the opening of the the new home of the Miami Marlins. The stadium has all the touristy bells and whistles that you would expect from a state that brought us Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World:

When baseball’s Opening Day kicks off next week, the Miami Marlins will inaugurate a new $515 million ballpark built with all the trappings of South Florida – two enormous fish tanks, palm trees and a kitschy (of course) home run celebration display.

With all its fancy trappings, the Marlins’ new stadium could very well set the national standard for family-friendly sports destinations. But after the opening-day fireworks dissipate, it will become clear that the ballpark sets a low bar for public diligence and oversight and that it could result in an SEC sanction (or worse) for some local public officials.

Officials at the county and city level agreed to pay for 80 percent of the new stadium without holding a public referendum or examining the financial condition of the team. The Miami Herald reported as much last December (emphasis mine):

Long before the deal to build the Marlins a new ballpark in Little Havana was cemented with a county commission vote in March 2009, the deal was ridiculed as lopsided, with critics complaining that elected leaders kowtowed to a wealthy ballclub owner threatening to leave town. In the end, the Marlins got their way.

The 37,000-seat, retractable-roof stadium ended up being a top-heavy deal for the county, put on the hook for $347 million in construction bonds, a $35 million loan to the Marlins, and $12 million for incidentals such as road repairs. The city’s end of the deal is $94 million worth of parking garages, $13 million toward construction, and $12 million for other improvements.

The county will have to dish out more than $2 billion over 40 years to pay back the principal and interest on the bonds, which were sold under poor market conditions.

The ballclub – which receives virtually all revenues, from concessions to ticket sales for everything from ballgames to soccer matches to concerts – was required only to spend $120 million at the end of construction, on top of repaying the loan to the county in $2 million yearly installments that would serve as rent.

Attention public officials: Giving away hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to wealthy sports owners is not acting in the best interests of the public. According to Moody’s, Miami-Dade County has “ongoing depressed economic conditions.” Although the stadium is sure to provide many families with some good times, it is going to require a lot of other families to pay taxes to pay off its bonds.

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Animated gif of the home run display…  /1032676/boosh.gif

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