Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Heated negotiations


OUR OPINION: As County Mayor Gimenez and the Heat make a deal, keep taxpayers’ money the primary concern

At AmericanAirlienes Arena, fans pay homage to LeBron James with a giant head poster before Miami Heat faced the Charlotte Bobcats in Round 1, Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs on Sunday.
At AmericanAirlienes Arena, fans pay homage to LeBron James with a giant head poster before Miami Heat faced the Charlotte Bobcats in Round 1, Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs on Sunday.
Charles Trainor Jr. / MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Miami-Dade taxpayers’ pocketbooks once again appear vulnerable as the county renegotiates a financial deal with another local sports franchise. This time, it’s the Miami Heat.

Folks are still stinging from the county’s sweetheart giveaway to Miami Marlins’ ownership and wary, given brief dealings with the Miami Dolphins. Residents must be assured of clarity and transparency as Mayor Carlos Gimenez deals with the Heat’s quest for a 10-year extension on its deal to play at AmericanAirlines Arena.

But at halftime, things are murky.

On Wednesday, Heat owner Micky Arison seemed to think he had reached a deal for extended county payments to the arena. Mr. Arison, the chairman of Carnival Corp., proudly — but prematurely — announced a done deal to season-ticket holders before the Heat’s Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

In an email, Mr. Arison said: “I am happy to announce that we have come to an agreement with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez … to extend our partnership … through the 2040 NBA season.”

News to Mayor Gimenez. No sooner had Mr. Arison sent what he considered good news to season ticket holders, than Mr. Gimenez cried foul, rejecting the announcement of a done deal and publicly contradicting the Heat’s owner.

As the Heat battled the Charlotte Bobcats, Mr. Arison and the county were putting out their own fire behind the scenes over the misunderstanding.

Embarrassing, yes. But for which side?

As Herald writers Douglas Hanks and Patricia Mazzei reported, the agreement as of Wednesday costs the county an additional $121 million through 2040 — on top of the $6.4 million that the county would have to pay annually for the next 15 years as per the terms of a 1996 agreement in which Mr. Arison financed construction of the $240 million arena. The annual subsidy would increase to $12 million in 2031 — the first year of the extended lease — and hit $17 million nine years later.

For its part, the county would collect a fixed rent to replace the current profit-sharing deal that had the potential to reap the county millions from the Heat. However, after 14 years, the Heat forked over less than $300,000, citing uneven sales and extensive investments in the arena. The county should not put itself in a position to get the short end of the financial stick again.

All deals between Mr. Gimenez and the Heat have to be approved by Miami-Dade commissioners.

Heat officials admit they may jumped the gun with their announcement; they simply meant to address media inquiries on the state of the negotiations, said the team’s attorney, Jorge Luis Lopez.

Mr. Lopez said negotiators made more headway Thursday, but he doubted it would all get ironed out before the May 6 commission meeting.

As the dealmakers move along, taxpayers must remain vigilant — and county officials need to heed their concerns. Heat advisers say they feel and understand the scrutiny, too.

“The situation with the Marlins and the Dolphins has raised the bar for all of us,” Mr. Lopez said.

The Heat has turned us into NBA champs. But we can’t get playoff-blind and trophy-giddy. Attendance at Heat games has surged since LeBron James joined the team in 2010, but he’s on the last year of his contract. What happens AL — After LeBron?

Let’s keep emotions out of it and keep our eye on the money ball.

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