Miami to declare Marlins’ stadium “blighted” so it can spend tax money on Beckham MLS stadium next door

The public subsidy details are starting to emerge for David Beckham’s proposed MLS stadium next to the Miami Marlins‘ baseball stadium: On top of about $35 million in property tax breaks, it now looks like Miami-Dade County would be buying the land for Beckham, and doing so by creating a redevelopment agency to use city and county tax dollars to pay for the stadium land and a possible light rail station:

The agency’s boundaries are suggested to be Flagler Street to the South, Northwest 22nd Avenue to the west, and the Miami River to the north and east, though the resolution says the study being sought could expand that area if needed.

Community redevelopment agencies by statute create trust funds that retain 95% of the increase in tax revenues from their area above the taxes that were collected before the agency was born. The agency uses that money to finance or refinance any redevelopment it undertakes. In this case, it would include stadium land and Metromover construction, though it could include more.

This would be tax-increment financing, in other words, with all the attendant problems thereof. And because redevelopment agencies can only be used for areas in need of redevelopment, this would require the area to be declared “slum and blighted” — including the Marlins’ stadium that opened next door just three years ago in the last attempt at revitalization. This is not going to help get people to Marlins’ games.

Everybody in Miami has given up hope of economic boom from stadiums, except guy paid to say so

With Miami officials talking about helping David Beckham build a new soccer venue, thoughts naturally turn to the possible economic impact on the surrounding neighborhood. Unfortunately, there’s a perfect case study right next door in the Marlins‘ stadium, and it is a uniformly dismal one, as the Miami Herald’s David Smiley points out:

The 26,000 fans leaving in streams large enough to snarl traffic are mostly walking into the surrounding neighborhood toward their cars — not the businesses that Miami’s politicians and the team said would thrive in the Marlins’ shadow.

“The Marlins …” says [Ysbel] Medina, whose bar is mostly empty, save a few stragglers drinking draft beers and eating cheeseburgers. “Man, the Marlins. I don’t know what to say about them.”

Well into a fourth disappointing season in the new stadium, little has changed in the surrounding neighborhood. Predictions that restaurants, cafeterias and hotels would open around the publicly funded park have proved false. The area surrounding the stadium is still pocked with small strip malls, empty lots, vacant buildings and affordable housing. Even the city-owned retail stores in the parking garages surrounding the stadium remain mostly empty.

It doesn’t help, obviously, that the Marlins are the Marlins, still among the bottom five teams in attendance despite a new stadium that offers protection from the elements. (Pro tip: Baseball fans are more interested in protection from having to watch teams that lose 60% of their games.) But even the 1.7 million fans that the Marlins drew last year would have been more than double that of any team in MLS (thanks to the longer baseball season), making it dubious whether any “restaurants, cafeterias, and hotels” will be any more excited about siting nearby just because a couple dozen soccer dates are on the menu.

Hope springs eternal, though, if you’re the economic consulting firm chief who was hired by the city of Miami to project a huge windfall for the local economy from the new Marlins’ stadium:

Tony Villamil, the economist who said the Marlins would pump $300 million in annual business into the local economy once the team began playing ball, says there are local businesses that do make good money providing services to the stadium, and it’s too early to claim failure on sports’ promised impact to Little Havana. He said the idea that an entertainment district would pop up around the stadium was always a long-term vision, and one that required zoning changes in the area around the stadium, which never happened.

“If you do soccer, now you’ve got almost year-round entertainment,” he said.

Actually, 81 baseball home games plus 17 soccer home games is way, way short of year-round. But given that Villamil’s actual study came up with that $300 million in annual impact figure just by adding up all the money projected to be spent at Marlins games and then applying a multiplier — without attempting to account for, say, money that now wouldn’t be spent at Marlins games at the old stadium, let alone how much would substitute for money that would otherwise have been spent on other entertainment options — maybe we shouldn’t expect much here in the way of math.

Miami’s deal with Marlins gives Loria right to dictate terms for Beckham’s soccer stadium

So it turns out there are some problems with the Miami soccer stadium site next to Marlins Park, beyond any possible need for public subsidies and evicting old people from their homes. And, surprise, surprise, these stem from the horrible Marlins stadium deal, which keeps on being horrible. As uncovered this week by Miami Today’s Michael Lewis:

  • A soccer team in a stadium next door to the Marlins facility wouldn’t be allowed to sell naming rights until the Marlins had done so first. And Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria hasn’t sold naming rights to his building yet because it is a monument to waste with a hideous sculpture and gets rain delays despite a costly retractable roof.
  • If allowed to sell naming rights, the soccer team wouldn’t be allowed to conflict with the Marlins’ sponsor — so, no two competing banks or airlines or what have you.
  • “No soccer exterior ads may conflict with a major Marlins sponsor. But if soccer sells an exterior ad that doesn’t conflict, the Marlins can then sign a conflicting sponsor and the soccer sponsor can’t renew.”
  • Neither soccer games nor soccer stadium construction can take place before, during, or after Marlins games, and the Marlins can set their own schedule as they see fit. And can change it at will, and the soccer team has to lump it.

Clearly, somebody in the Marlins’ lease-writing division was thinking ahead to having a soccer team as a neighbor, and the city and county lease negotiators decided to sign off on whatever the baseball team wanted. Which should come as no surprise, since it’s pretty much what they did with the entire stadium deal, but it’s going to create some headaches for David Beckham’s stadium plans. One can only hope that Miami isn’t asked to kick in public money to make up for some of these obstacles, but I wouldn’t hope too hard, given Miami’s track record here.

Marlins had a rain delay despite building domed stadium just to avoid rain delays

It’s not all making fun of the Chicago Cubs around here these days. Look, I can also make fun of the Miami Marlins for having a rain delay at a stadium with a retractable roof!

Since the Marlins have a domed stadium, their crew doesn’t have the proper tarps for a rain delay, because, you know, they would never have one with a roof, in theory. That’s how you get a bunch of confused, lost people in polos, doing whatever they can to try and keep the ground dry.

Marlins Park, let’s recall, is costing Miami taxpayers close to a billion dollars in part thanks to that pricey retractable roof, which the Marlins owners insisted on because they decided it rained too much during baseball season in Miami. So why didn’t they close the damn roof?

Not everybody can be the Cubs, but some teams sure are giving it the old college try.

It’s Opening Day, when everyone’s stadium dreams start with a 0-0 record

It’s Opening Day for baseball! I’m headed out to see the New York Mets open their season in a couple of hours (the one chance each year for a Mets fan to see their team without a losing record), but what else is going on around the baseball nation?

Marlins prez: More people would come to our games if they were mercifully over quicker

Miami Marlins president David Samson may have gotten booted off Survivor immediately for being a jerk and an incompetent manager, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop entertaining the people of America. Witness:

Win or lose, he wants the Marlins to do it faster this year.

“Pace of game is about our fans,” Samson said. “It’s very much a TV issue and an in-game-experience issue. No one is complaining about pace of game where it goes 12 innings and it’s 3 hours and 20 minutes and it’s a 5-4 game. That’s not the issue. If it’s a 3-1 nine-inning game that goes 3 hours and 12 minutes, that’s not enjoyable.”

The obvious jokes aside (the Marlins have certainly assembled a lineup that doesn’t interrupt the game with such distractions as baserunners), it’s amusing to hear Samson worrying about the in-game experience when this is the guy who had fans ejected for bringing signs to the game. But I suppose it’s easier to blame game length for your horrible attendance than your having traded off any talented players or having built a crazy-expensive stadium at taxpayer expense that boasts as its main claim to fame an award for excellence in drywall.

Not only can’t I believe they kicked this guy off Survivor, I can’t believe they didn’t give him his own reality show. Oh wait, they did.

Florida house speaker: No new sales tax “checks” for stadiums this year

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, who said earlier this week that he’d be introducing a bill to require sports teams to show they actually have a reason to ask for sales-tax kickbacks, upped the ante slightly yesterday by declaring that he doesn’t intend on approving any sports subsidies this year at all:

“Our focus right now is on a process that treats everyone equitably and not writing any checks,” Weatherford said during an interview with The News Service of Florida in his Capitol office.

Currently, the state of Florida pays $2 million a year to the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Heat, and Orlando Magic in exchange for the teams doing the state the favor of existing. (The Miami Marlins got left off this list after getting the $2 million a year break for their previous stadium, but did get everything else they wanted, so no complaining.) Right now the Orlando City Soccer Club, David Beckham’s as-yet-unnamed Miami MLS expansion team, and the Daytona International Speedway are all lining up to ask for sales-tax rebates as well, but it sounds like they’re going to have to wait — until next year, anyway, when Weatherford will, at the ripe old age of 35, be term-limited out of office. If Weatherford has his way, by then there will be new laws requiring team owners to “go through the process with the Department of Economic Opportunity just like everybody else does that wants to create jobs in Florida” to prove that their projects will provide a return on the state’s investment, though it remains to be seen whether he has a chance in hell of getting it through the state senate, which has historically been much more lenient about this kind of thing.

David Samson’s “claim to fame” is extorting public money for Marlins stadium

There’s no way I can top this headline from the Miami New Times:

David Samson Brags About Screwing Taxpayers in Survivor Bio

David Samson, as some of you may recall, is the Miami Marlins team president (and ex-stepson of team owner Jeffrey Loria) who made increasingly hilarious threats about the team leaving Florida in order to extract public money for a new stadium. Samson is also, equally hilariously, a contestant on the new season of Survivor, and he’s apparently really proud of the work he did on the people of Miami:

When asked what his “personal claim to fame” was, he replied, “Got local government in Miami to contribute over 350 million dollars to a new baseball park during the recession.”

As the New Times notes, Samson was president of the team when they won the 2003 World Series, but this is what he chose as his career highlight. Marlins execs really are a special breed.

New Marlins stadium now drawing as few fans as old Marlins stadium

It’s official: the Miami Marlins have had the shortest stadium honeymoon period ever.

What has moving to Miami brought the Marlins? About 100 extra fans per game.

That’s the current gap between this year’s attendance and the average gate count for the Marlins’ last season at Sun Life Stadium, the football field that owner Jeffrey Loria blamed for the team’s long-standing attendance and revenue woes.

Honeymoon periods typically last two to eight years, so that’s historically awful. Though it’s worth noting that plenty of stadiums considered rousing successes have reverted to pre-new-ballpark attendance levels after the initial buzz is gone: check out the Seattle Mariners or Cleveland Indians, for example.

Anyway, it’s not all bad in Miami: Thanks to the massive fan disinterest, kids can eat free on Wednesdays, and seniors get free tickets on Thursdays. Also, reports the Miami Herald, in Tuesday’s game against the Mets, “enough spectators jumped up with raised arms to perform several laps of a respectable fan wave before it fizzled.” Feel the excitement!

Marlins closing off top deck of new stadium because nobody sits there anyway

If you thought the Miami Marlins‘ attendance disaster couldn’t get any more embarrassing, it just got more embarrassing:

The Marlins, whose attendance ranks last in the National League five weeks into the season, have decided to close the upper bowl at Marlins Park for at least some weeknight games.

That’s right: On top of setting a record last year for worst attendance in the first year in a new stadium, and being dead last in the league in attendance in their second year (though three American League teams have even sadder ticket sales, including the second-place Kansas City Royals), now the Marlins are using a cost-saving trick — and no matter what the team says about a “better fan experience,” this is mostly about saving operating costs by shutting down concession stands and restrooms in underused areas — that has previously been used only by teams demanding new stadiums because their old ones are so poorly attended. And the Oakland A’s, who have tarped off their own upper deck since 2006, are actually ahead of the Marlins in attendance this year. And the Marlins’ stadium only has 37,000 seats to begin with, barely more than the Oakland Coliseum has after the tarps were installed.

Let’s see, what else could make the nearly one billion dollars spent by Florida taxpayers on this new mostly empty stadium even sadder? How about retail tenants backing out of leasing storefronts at Marlins parking garages because they’re afraid there won’t be any foot traffic?