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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.