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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Miami ballpark deal progressing- MLB.com

The possibility of the Marlins staying in Miami is becoming more of a reality. Despite low attendance numbers year after year, the Fish continue to bring a winning attitude to South Florida.

DuPuy says finishing details is 'highest priority'
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Major League Baseball is closing in on finalizing a new ballpark deal in downtown Miami that would keep the Marlins in South Florida for a generation, the sport's No. 2 official said on Saturday night, just prior to the annual dinner held by the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation at a local hotel.

The ballpark, replete with a retractable roof, would be located in a redevelopment district just miles inland from the American Airlines Arena, which is located on the banks of Biscayne Bay.

"Our highest priority this winter is to get a ballpark deal done in Miami," Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseball's president and chief operating officer, told MLB.com. "We've had tremendous cooperation from the county manager and the mayor. There have been several meetings and we are really optimistic we can get this done. There's a will to get this done. It's necessary for the Marlins. We're committed to baseball remaining in South Florida."

The ballpark is projected to be funded in a 60-40 percent public-private partnership between the city of Miami-Dade County and the Marlins, DuPuy said, with the public funding coming from hotel-motel, facility and redevelopment district taxes. A sales or income tax that would directly affect Miami-Dade County citizens is not contemplated nor is state money at the moment.

The deal wouldn't have to go to a public vote, but it would have to be approved by the Miami City Council and the Miami-Dade County Board of Supervisors, added DuPuy, who has become the point man for MLB and the Marlins on the project.

In South Florida, after a deal in Miami to build the facility on land near the Orange Bowl fell through several years ago when a $30 million gap in the project's cost couldn't be closed, the Marlins were allowed to explore moving the franchise to another state. But a possible shift to San Antonio was essentially nixed by MLB, which has decided to keep the team where it is.

A ballpark proposal from nearby Hialeah seems to have stimulated resolve in Miami for building the stadium there.

Asked if a deal was imminent, DuPuy stopped short of that assessment.

"Imminent is a difficult word," he said. "Everyone is working very hard and I do believe everyone is committed to getting it done. So I would hope that this winter we could finally bring it to resolution."

Since 2002, MLB's stadium efforts have been bifurcated, to say the least, between Montreal/Washington, D.C., Minnesota, Oakland and Florida. But each of the first three situations now seemed to be resolved.

Since the Marlins expanded into the National League in 1993, they have played in what is now called Dolphin Stadium, an open-air football facility that is home to the NFL's Miami Dolphins. The baseball team has a lease to play there through 2010, but has been told it must find a new venue by 2011.

The Marlins have won the World Series twice in their short existence (1997 and 2003), but three separate ownership groups have found it nearly impossible over the past decade to fund and build a new ballpark in South Florida, until now.

Jeffery Loria and his group of minority partners purchased the Marlins on Feb. 15, 2002. Loria had previously owned the Expos, but he and president David Samson failed to get a new stadium in Montreal to save that franchise for Quebec. At the same time, MLB purchased the Expos from Loria, John Henry, the previous Marlins owner, became part of a group that bought the Red Sox.

Despite defeating the Yankees to win the 2003 World Series, Samson claimed that the Marlins were losing in excess of $30 million a year. After the Miami stadium deal collapsed in 2005, Loria ordered the player payroll cut, and it was reduced to $15 million this past season.

Though the Marlins were surprisingly competitive, they drew a National League low 1,165,120 at home, well below the league average of 2,598,741. They attracted a high of 3,064,847 during their inaugural 1993 season, but since then have only exceeded 2 million once -- in 1997.

The current stadium is located north of downtown Miami not far from Fort Lauderdale. DuPuy said the Marlins need a ballpark that has a retractable roof, giving fans certainty that games will be played during summer months in South Florida when the heat and humidity is a constant and showers are always expected.

"It's a vertical audience in South Florida," DuPuy said. "In order to draw fans down to Miami from (Broward County) they need to know that the game is going to start on time and be over in two to three hours. That's the opinion of MLB and that's the opinion of the Marlins. A retractable roof is essential in making this situation work."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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