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March 06, 2009

Spence-Jones on Marlins stadium payoff: I'll take whatever you got

So it turns out the Miami Community Revitalization Agency board didn't actually vote last night, instead holding a "workshop meeting" on city commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones' plan to expand a special property-tax district to provide $500 million funding for projects in her Overtown district. And only two of the five board members bothered to show up, Spence-Jones and stadium critic Marc Sarnoff.

Instead, it became a night for tea-leaf reading of which way Spence-Jones will vote on the Florida Marlins stadium deal, and she gave the team's owners plenty of reason for optimism. First she said she'd already met with Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez and gotten his backing for her plan, which would expand the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency and funnel any new property tax revenues to Overtown. Then, when Sarnoff questioned whether property-tax revenues are really going to go up by much — he estimated, "You probably only have, at a maximum, $100 million in bonding capacity, not $500 million" — Spence-Jones first cut him off, then replied, "If we can't bond $500 million and we know the market won't support it, we're not going to do it. But if we can bond $100 million — guess what — we'll take it."

An actual CRA vote is now set for next Thursday, March 12. If Spence-Jones' price has been met, then the city commission — made up of the same people as the CRA board — would presumably vote to approve the stadium deal the following Thursday, with Spence-Jones as the swing vote. The project would then move on to an as-yet-unscheduled county commission vote, which would get to consider such issues as that the stadium bonds would depend on the same future revenues already committed to other projects.

And if this weren't already complicated enough, the owner of the former site of the Miami Arena in downtown Miami says he'll build a stadium with his own money, so long as he's paid back in the form of rent. Sarnoff made optimistic noises at this, but it really wouldn't be any easier for the team, city, and county to come up with $40 million or so a year in rent payments than in stadium bond payments. But at least nobody's missing an opportunity to make this whole mess even more confusing.


Imagine that, a politician taking the best deal possible. Good for her. In terms of what she could do for her area, she's in the game with a yes vote, a no vote means no immediate projects in her area. I'd say that like Hyman Roth, she's played this one beautifully. Some attention, some promises and she will not be the vote which kills the stadium.

The former Miami Arena site is appealing to only its current landlord--if they could go downtown, they would do it off the bay--and the publisher of the Miami Today, Michael Lewis. Mr Lewis is in competition with Norman Braman to see who can do the most harm to the stadium deal. I fully expect Mr Lewis to announce that the Orange Bowl location was been discovered to be the site of a Seminole burial grounds on the day of the County vote.

Posted by Jorge Costales on March 6, 2009 07:25 PM

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