Latest News

Marlins home opener

The Florida Marlins stadium deal headed for final showdown votes Friday would be among the more generous to a team owner this decade, with the public footing 70 percent of the construction bill but sharing none of the revenue, a Miami Herald analysis found.

Fourteen Major League Baseball stadiums have been built, or begun, since 2000. The average public contribution for construction of those stadiums has been 44 percent, the newspaper found.

Under the proposed Miami deal, the Marlins would rank ninth of the 14 in the percentage of construction costs borne by the team, the newspaper found.

''It's probably not the best deal that has ever been worked out between a community and a team,'' Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said after his State of the County speech on Tuesday.

But he insisted it's better than most and comes at a time when the region is thirsty for a public works jolt. ''At some point, negotiations have to stop,'' he said.

The Herald examined public records, reviewed media reports and spoke with officials across the country to create its list, showing:

 The public paid a higher percentage of construction costs for stadiums in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. Taxpayers in Washington and Houston also paid more, but they will recoup much of their investment through revenue sharing with the teams.

 Team owners are on the hook for a greater share of construction costs in Minneapolis, San Diego, Philadelphia, Detroit, St. Louis, New York -- with stadiums for both the Mets and Yankees -- and San Francisco. While the New York stadiums, worth nearly $2 billion, include no upfront public payments, the city is investing nearly $400 million in infrastructure.

Stadium deals are complex transactions that can be difficult to compare. Some involve outright gifts of public land, which can be hard to value; some involve taxpayer-funded public works that benefit the team and the public; and almost all involve varying degrees of low-interest financing subsidized by government agencies.

Those factors make it impossible to draw an across-the-board, apples to apples comparison of every financial variable.

The initial stadium construction agreements are generally comparable, typically setting the tone for how generous local governments are going to be to the team over the life of the deal.

The Herald analysis shows cities that drove the hardest bargains often did so after putting stadium deals to a public vote, or after politicians dismissed threats from team owners to move.

Voters in St. Louis refused to finance a stadium for the venerable Cardinals, so team owners raised 88 percent of the construction money themselves, relying on a county loan for the rest.

In San Francisco, where voters rejected four ballot measures that would have committed public funds to a new Giants stadium, a local grocery magnate built a waterfront park with money from Silicon Valley investors and deep-pocketed fans.

''We really would have preferred if the public had taken the risk instead of us,'' said Peter Magowan, who bought the Giants after the failed ballot measures. ``But voters had spoken in unmistakable terms to us a number of times.''

In Miami, the Marlins and local leaders carefully avoided a public referendum by structuring the deal so most of the public money comes from hotel bed taxes paid primarily by tourists.

Robert Starkey, who consults for Major League Baseball on stadium deals, reviewed the newspaper's findings.

''The most difficult thing to do with these deals is compare them,'' he said.


Starkey questioned how fair it is to compare the Marlins to large-market teams like the Yankees and the Giants, or even smaller-market teams with robust revenues, like the Cardinals.

''They can put more toward the ballpark than Miami or Minnesota or Pittsburgh,'' Starkey said, ``just like some people can afford to buy a bigger house.''

In some cases, teams were willing to put up more of their own money because they own the property adjacent to their new stadiums and would profit from the development of restaurants and shopping. San Diego, Detroit and St. Louis fall into that category, Starkey said.

Under the Marlins deal, outright public gifts would cover $361 million of the $515 million construction. The Marlins would pay $119 million and get another $35 million loan from the county, to be repaid in escalating annual installments.

The Marlins will not have to buy land: The county will host them rent-free for 35 years on the site in Little Havana, which is assessed at $16 million by the county appraiser. The county will own the stadium, so the Marlins won't pay property tax.

So-called bed taxes will cover $311 million of the total. But revenue from the bed tax has been severely compromised by the recession, raising questions about whether the county would have to dip into the general fund, which pays for services including police and garbage collection.

About $10 million of public money was spent to tear down the Orange Bowl, and another $24 million will go toward infrastructure improvements.

Other cities have constructed finances differently. In 2004, the Washington council voted to cover the $600 million construction costs for the Nationals. But Washington shares significantly in the team's proceeds.

To help cover the city's roughly $35 million annual construction loan payments, the Nationals pay an average rent of $5.5 million a year. The city also collects tax on tickets and merchandise at the stadium; their share came to $12.5 million in 2008. Taxes on businesses and utilities cover the rest of D.C.'s annual loan payment.

Marlins President David Samson said up until six months ago, he offered the county the exact deal that D.C. received.

But county officials say they're better off with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria spending $154 million toward construction costs upfront.

''Washington, D.C., is all public money; it's taxes imposed on users of the stadium,'' County Manager George Burgess said.

Robert A. DuPuy, president of Major League Baseball, said of Loria: ``This is an owner who is reaching in his own pocket in a market that, frankly, is unproven.''

The San Diego Padres opened their new stadium in 2005, built with 67 percent public funds, slightly less than in Miami. As part of the deal, the team owner invested $300 million to help develop the neighborhood surrounding the stadium. There is no such requirement for the Marlins.

The city of San Diego is able to pay off its debt with proceeds from other events at the stadium, including concerts, soccer matches and motocross races, said Tim Moore, the city's ballpark administrator.

Under the Marlins' pending deal, all revenue from the first 10 nonbaseball events at the stadium each year would go to the team. After that, the county would get half the profits, but the money must be spent on capital improvements at the park.

''Wow, the Marlins negotiated a good deal,'' Moore said.


In Milwaukee, emotions are still raw even though the stadium opened eight years ago and the Brewers made the playoffs in 2008.

''You're gonna get ripped off -- look out,'' Wisconsin state Sen. Michael G. Ellis said last week. ``Bud Selig is on the way; hold on to your wallet.''

Selig, now the commissioner of Major League Baseball, owned the Brewers when stadium negotiations began in the 1990s. He could not be reached for comment.

The initial conversations involved Selig paying for his own stadium, said Ellis, who was majority leader of the state Senate during key votes. Through relentless lobbying, ''the worm turned,'' Ellis said, and the public wound up paying 78 percent.

Selig got the site he wanted, in a remote location where the team wouldn't have to compete with other restaurants and businesses.

The Miami deal is ''the same modus operandi as they used up here,'' Ellis said.

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who went on to serve in President George W. Bush's Cabinet, was an early supporter of the Brewers' deal. ''It couldn't have happened without me,'' Thompson said.

But as the deal progressed, Thompson soured. The Seligs, he said, ``were going to contribute a lot more money and a lot more support, and they just kept pulling back, all during construction.''

Thompson said that if he were a Miami politician, he would not vote until he saw signed, enforceable contracts.

Contracts for stadium construction and operation are written but not signed. The Marlins so far have not publicly detailed how they will cover their share of the construction costs.

Marlins President Samson said he expects to approach lenders in the next 18 months, and that ''banks are comfortable today'' with lending money to teams.

City and county commissioners will cast votes on five separate stadium contracts on Friday, the final votes in the franchise's decade-long quest for a permanent home.

Passage could come down to a one-vote swing, as local government must approve two contracts -- for construction and management -- by a super majority because the Marlins hired contractors without formal bid. If all 13 county commissioners vote, nine must approve.

Miami commissioners must cast three votes for the stadium deal to clear. One, involving a bid waiver for about $10 million worth of repairs around the stadium, requires approval of four of the five commissioners.

MLB's DuPuy said if a stadium deal can't be hammered out the Marlins might be better off somewhere else. ``Anyplace is better than Miami -- without a ballpark.''

Comparing New Stadiums:

Fourteen Major League Baseball stadiums have been built, or begun, since 2000. The average public contribution for construction has been 44%, according to a Herald analysis based on public records, media reports and interviews with team officials and city and county administrators across the country.

In order to create the most comparable rankings, the list below focuses on the cost of the stadium alone. It does not address the wide range of other variables involved in stadium projects -- including payments for infrastructure improvements, which benefit the teams and the public, land grants (which can be difficult or impossible to value consistently), or the benefit some teams get from low-interest loans subsidized by government agencies.

LocationYear OpenCost*Public ContributionPrivate Contribution % Public Contribution
San Diego200445430115366%
San Francisco200035703570%
St. Louis200636503650%
TOTAL of ALLNA6668.72927.53741.244%