FLORIDA MARLINS

So now we had our state local elections and they tell us what we already knew. The “Too Big To Fail” mentality is here to stay.  Nothing has really changed since the 2008 Presidential elections and dishonesty is a way of life and these days is rewarded with special legislation on the backs of taxpayers. Is this a great country or what?  If you happen to be one of the “TOO BIG TO FAIL” that is!

Outrage simmers over Florida Marlins’ stadium deal

BY ADAM H. BEASLEY AND CHARLES RABIN

abeasley@MiamiHerald.com

Elected officials and local activists said the Florida Marlins misled the public when trying to secure their financing deal to build a new stadium in Little Havana.

Revelations this week that the Florida Marlins had turned a $37.8 million profit at the same time they were negotiating a sweetheart stadium deal has some elected officials and a local activist charging the team misled the public during the contentious, drawn-out debate.

“[The idea] is horrible and the financing is even worse. And now you see they took us for a ride,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, who voted against the stadium plan that ultimately secured city and county funding.

As the Marlins made their final push for a retractable-roof stadium in Little Havana in early 2009, team president David Samson framed the issue as a struggle for the franchise’s existence.

The $642 million, 37,000-seat facility was needed, he said, “to save baseball in South Florida.”

But according to previously privileged team financial statements — made public this week on the website Deadspin.com — the Marlins were in a better financial state than the team let on.

In 2008, at the same time the Marlins lobbied for funding from Miami and Miami-Dade County without disclosing their bottom line, the ball club turned a hefty profit thanks in large part to $48 million provided by Major League Baseball through revenue sharing.

The following year, the supposedly cash-strapped Marlins were again in the black, this time by $11.1 million, while having the league’s lowest payroll ($36.8 million) — $6 million less than any other team — for the second consecutive season.

“I tried to make it a condition on the contract that we see the books,” Gimenez said. “This shows me they could have put more into the stadium than they did. We could have sold less bonds.”

TEAM’S REFUSAL

Before the team was awarded the favorable deal — the Marlins basically secured every dollar of revenue made at the stadium — several commissioners argued the city and county had the right to know the team’s financial position, given that taxpayer dollars would foot almost $500 million of the stadium’s cost.

But the Marlins refused, pointing to their protected status as a private entity.

The club even played political hardball on the issue, threatening to leave town if it didn’t get its way. The Marlins took meetings with officials from San Antonio and Las Vegas before securing the deal they wanted in South Florida.

After months of debate, County Manager George Burgess laid out a final plan on March 24, 2009, arguing the stadium would create 3,300 jobs and ensure the Marlins would never leave South Florida. It passed the County Commission by a 9-4 vote.

In addition to getting a new home, the Marlins won’t have to pay their share of the cost — roughly $150 million — until the end of construction.

In light of the team’s better-than-portrayed finances, many now wonder if the trade-off was worth it to taxpayers, who have to pay the roughly $2 billion tab, including interest.

“None of us were aware of this,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Martinez, who also voted against the final deal.

When asked if the Commission was duped, Martinez said: “I think so. I do believe that if some people had known they were taking a profit, they would have voted differently.”

Samson, who was a key negotiator in the deal, had a far different take on the numbers.

“[It] basically confirms everything that we have said over the years, in terms of how we’ve operated the team, with our eye toward one thing,” Samson said. “That was to ensure that baseball would be secured in South Florida, and that we would to contribute what was required to in order to consummate the stadium transaction.”

Instead of taking money provided by revenue sharing out of the organization as true profit, Samson said, the club used its surplus to pay down debt so it could secure the financing required to honor its end of the deal.

While neither Burgess nor County Mayor Carlos Alvarez were made available for comment Tuesday, Miami-Dade spokeswoman Victoria Mallette said the county never saw the Marlins’ financial statements during the negotiations, but was not surprised to learn the club turned a profit.

She then declined to answer when asked if Alvarez still believes the taxpayers got a good deal from the Marlins.

“The motivation to strike a deal on a ballpark was never about what’s in it for the Marlins ownership, but what’s in it for this community,” Mallette said in an e-mail. “Like museums, performing arts centers and parks, professional sports are a part of the fabric of this community — and among the amenities that make our area desirable.

“We wanted to keep professional baseball in South Florida and continue offering residents and visitors a widearray of amenities, including Major League Baseball.”

BRAMAN: `SUCKERS’

But that argument doesn’t fly with auto magnate Norman Braman, who lost a legal battle to shut down the stadium plan.

Braman challenged the Marlins’ right to keep their finances private in court, but a judge ruled the team didn’t have to open up its books.

He greeted this week’s revelation with more than a touch of amusement.

“That’s not a news story. Now the taxpayers are stuck with paying [it] back. It shows they should have built the thing themselves. It shows the taxpayers are a bunch of suckers.”

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