Posted on Sunday, 07.12.09 - Stadium is a bad deal for taxpayers
BY NORMAN BRAMAN
I read with great disappointment, but not surprise, Wednesday's front-page article about the Florida Marlins' stadium's final costs being more than $2.4 billion.
This does not include the cost of the city-paid parking garage (about $100 million), the land, infrastructure costs, overruns or operating costs of about $1 million annually due from the public trough.
I engaged in expensive litigation with Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami not because I don't like baseball, but because I believe the people have a right to vote on this issue and because, especially in these difficult economic times, our governments must be fiscally responsible if they are going to meet fully the basic needs of our community.
Throughout the protracted litigation, I warned that stadium, parking and infrastructure costs would far exceed the flowery and unfounded ''projections'' bandied about by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez and County Manager George Burgess, who seemed oblivious that he could be bamboozled in his secret negotiations with the Marlins.
If you don't believe this, check on the web the deal to be put to a public referendum (What a concept!) for the proposed San Francisco 49ers' stadium. (Remember, the Marlins also were given all stadium-generated revenue.) It is unbelievable how both local commissions abdicated their responsibilities by rushing to OK this mammoth giveaway of public funds to private millionaires before they truly understood the enormity of this folly.
What makes the stadium deal even more deplorable is that the sole rationale for approving this disaster in the making was the hope of ''making Miami a world-class city,'' as if Los Angeles is less of a world-class city because it doesn't sport a professional football team. Both commissions had no idea of the financial capability of its private-entity partner -- and still don't.
Neither commission performed or researched any studies, or had any facts, to support their blatant exaggerations that ''thousands'' of local jobs would be created. (See Ike Seamans' Feb. 26 Miami Herald article The myth of 'thousands of new jobs' and Burgess' testimony that the permanent jobs at the new stadium only will replace existing ones at Dolphins Stadium.)
Other exaggerations: that a stadium creates positive economic impact and increases tourism (independent studies clearly conclude to the contrary) and that Marlins' attendance will increase. Not even the Marlins did those studies.
Yes, locals may be given some temporary construction jobs, as they would have received had the commission voted to revitalize the Miami Beach Convention Center, a mecca for tourism, but unfortunately, most good stadium jobs will be awarded to skilled laborers brought in by the ''no-bid'' contractors.
Rather than a world-class city, Miami is now the laughingstock of the professional sports world for this piñata awarded to a private business.
It is important not to forget that Major League Baseball refused to be on the hook for anything, and the Marlins don't even have to put in one cent until the county has expended all of its construction funds. Can you imagine if the Marlins' limited-liability companies are unable to put in their $120 million -- the county loaned them $35 million more -- after partial completion of the stadium? Who do you think will be forced to pony up more funds to complete the stadium?
Both commissions have jeopardized our governments' financial foundation by approving this deal. Current and future generations will pay and suffer the consequences of reduced services because, in addition to much higher-than-projected interest rates on the bonds, our elected officials were forced to pledge non-advalorem general revenues in order to induce Wall Street to sell the bonds. (General revenue helps pay for necessary services like housing, healthcare, education, fire and police protection, etc.)
I suspect that when the day of financial reckoning arrives, Diaz, Alvarez and Burgess will be difficult to find -- and will be enjoying their pensions. (That's another ticking financial time bomb.)
We have appealed the trial court's ruling to, and hopefully will prevail at, the Third District Court of Appeal and, if necessary, the Florida Supreme Court. But, regardless of the legal issues, this open-ended waste of public funds that can tap into the general revenues is irresponsible public policy in the extreme.
There has been a huge disconnect between what The Miami Herald's reporters have written about the stadium project and what the Editorial Board wrote, or, more inexcusably, failed to write. The board has abdicated its obligation as our community watchdog.
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