When Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria cut payroll costs by dismantling the ballclub at the end of last season, it wiped out any immediate hope the city of Miami had of luring retailers to the ballpark, interviews with those involved in negotiations and internal emails show.
Two national restaurant chains that had signed letters of intent to open in the parking garages surrounding the facility backed out of their deals, expressing reservations to the city about dwindling crowds and foot traffic.
Now, more than a year since the Marlins first opened the gates to the new Little Havana ballpark — and four years after city and county leaders crowed that building the stadium would be an economic shot in the arm for the area — not a single business is operating in the 8,500 square feet of retail space available in three of the four garages fronting the ballpark.
“Obviously, the Marlins didn’t help in regards to their off-season moves,” said Miami Parking Authority Chief Executive Art Noriega, whose semi-autonomous agency manages the garages. “Then everything went ice cold.”
City records show that before Loria determined the Marlins hadn’t met expectations, first in July 2012 when he sold off shortstop Hanley Ramirez and five others, then in November when stars Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and fan favorite Emilio Bonifacio were sent packing to the Toronto Blue Jays, the city was in negotiations with the two national restaurant chains and a pizza shop.
When those players were traded, the talks tanked.
A week after the November trade, leasing agent Arthur Stevens of Terranova Corp., the firm hired by the city to lure clients to the ballpark, expressed concern about Marco’s Pizza making good on its letter of intent to sign a lease.
“Marco’s is very concerned about what this will do to future attendance,’’ Stevens, who has since left the firm, wrote to the city’s public facilities director, Henry Torre. “Just thought you should know, I’ll keep you posted.”
Marco’s cut and ran.
Two months later, in January, Stevens again expressed concern over a client, this time a national restaurant chain named Firefly.
“While we want to do the deal with the Marlins, their investors are worried about the negative impact that the new Marlins team will have on overall traffic, attendance. One of their investors has contacts within who continues to hear not so good things,” Stevens wrote Henry in an email.
A few weeks later, Firely opted out.
The two defections followed earlier tension between the city and a retail broker working to land a deal with the Tilted Kilt, an Arizona-based national chain the city had pinned its hopes on as the large, sexy anchor needed to attract other tenants.
In August, broker Nathan A. Werner had blasted the city and Terranova’s Stevens for a “poorly drafted” lease and for leaking terms of the negotiations to two media outlets including the Miami Herald, which wrote about pending deal.
“Art, your client is doing the exact opposite of what they should be doing,’’ Werner wrote Stevens in October. “First they send a poorly drafted lease with all the wrong terms and conditions, and now two leaks to papers that shed negative light on the area. Have they never negotiated a lease? Don’t they understand the sensitivity of these type of negotiations?”