The Miami Herald

Miami-Dade challenging $1.7 million of Marlins expenses at new ballpark

Miami-Dade County is challenging $1.7 million in costs — from pillow cases to drapes to brochures — that the Miami Marlins believe should be credited toward their part of the construction bill for the new ballpark in Little Havana.

All of the claims being questioned by the county relate to the ballclub’s small sales office that sat next to the stadium parking garages on Northwest Seventh Street.

The team is seeking to recover $14,031 for advertising banners, thousands spent on Comcast cable and Florida Power & Light bills, $110,545 it put toward rent, and $259,057 paid to the A2 Group, the firm that designed the center.

The team also spent $33,226 on office furniture, $9,823 on the drapes, and $299.72 for fabric to cover three pillows — all items the county has chosen to fight.

“In my opinion, we caught everything, even petty stuff,’’ said Jose Galan, the county administrator scrutinizing the ballpark budget for “soft costs’’ — or non-construction costs — not covered by a 2009 agreement. “But that’s because of how deeply we looked.’’

Also flagged: two wooden carts that cost $10,166, and $1,106 worth of carpeting.

The county wants the Marlins to strike $101.03 from a meal expensed to one consultant, and a $162 hotel bill from another consultant because it exceeded the county’s daily allowance. And $60,000 for a computer-generated virtual tour of stadium seats for potential ticket buyers is a no-no as well, the county asserts.

The agreement signed by the Marlins and the county defines soft costs as design, consultation and legal fees paid by the team in connection with construction of the $634 million retractable-roof structure. It gave the Marlins up to $89.5 million to spend on those items; in the end they spent just $38.5 million, just under one-third of the team’s $120 million investment in the project.

The vast majority of the $38.5 million in soft costs went toward attorney, lobbying and consulting fees. Most of that is not in dispute, but the county is challenging $5,568 in attorney’s fees the team spent fighting auto magnate Norman Braman’s failed lawsuit to stop ballpark construction.

One city commissioner questions crediting the team for all of those costs.

“It adds insult to injury,’’ said Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who voted against the ballpark plan but for the financing of the construction. “The people who lobbied elected officials are paid for [with construction dollars]? It should have been put into reducing the city and county’s contributions.”

Also on the Marlins soft-cost list: $10,980 in wine, purchased for a celebration by ownership and some friends at the sales office after construction was finally complete. The county said the Marlins have already agreed to waive that item.

“If I were the mayor, I’d certainly hire an outside group, forensic accountants, to look into this,” Braman said. “Wine bills … what do all those have to do with construction? It sounds like rip-off number two to me.”

The Marlins and the county are negotiating over the items at issue, with an arbiter deciding final differences. Any funds the Marlins waive would go toward future capital improvements at the ballpark.

Other, mostly more expensive items, weren’t questioned by the county.

The team lists $856,447 it paid the Holland & Knight law firm, and $694,310 to Proskauer Rose, a worldwide legal management company, as expenses. There’s also the $73,419 Bobble head display case that by all accounts is quite popular.

Marlins President David Samson wouldn’t answer specific questions about the team’s soft costs. Asked if he would concede to the county’s challenges, he said, “That’s something that during the course of the process will be dealt with.”

The latest disclosure irks some critics of the ballpark who have complained all along of a lopsided deal.

Public money covered more than 80 percent of the $634 million stadium and parking garage construction deal.

Broken down, the county spent $376.3 million. Miami, which was responsible for the four parking garages, spent $132.5 million. And Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria ponied up $125.2 million. The Marlins also received an interest free, $35 million loan from the county that it will pay back through yearly rent beginning at about $2.3 million and increasing 2 percent each year.

The deal also gave the Marlins almost every penny of revenue created at the ballpark, from ticket sales and food and drink concessions, to parking spaces selling above $10, to gate receipts from concerts when the ballclub isn’t playing.

Public backlash against the project led in large part to the recall of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez last year. His manager George Burgess, who engineered the deal, left soon after. County Commissioner Natacha Seijas was recalled alongside Alvarez.

All that is now a side note.

The stadium opened in April to much celebration. A recent winning streak has the ballclub well above the .500 mark, and the crowds have been steady — a big improvement from years past.

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