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Marlins' ballpark plan approved

Marlins' ballpark plan approved

MIAMI -- After eight years of searching for a long-term home -- and eight years of frustration -- the Marlins on Thursday ecstatically found the answer to their dreams. Funding for a new stadium, in the form of a Baseball Stadium Agreement, was approved by the two principal commission bodies here.

There still are some nagging details to work out. The Marlins must return to the Miami-Dade County Commission within 30 days with an agreement on a formula for determining security-personnel use between the county and City of Miami. The commission also wants to hear of how much progress the team makes in achieving labor peace, meaning, mostly, concession workers.

But those considerations won't affect the viability of the deal.

"Now this is a binding agreement," Miami mayor Manny Diaz said when he emerged from the meeting. "We have a deal to keep baseball in Miami."

Later, Marlins president David Samson said, to loud cheers, "Fact is, we have a binding agreement for a new stadium -- the Marlins ballpark."

It was a roller coaster ride of a day, to be sure. After appearing to have the votes for final approval, the Marlins saw their chances plummet when Commissioner Jose Diaz made an issue about which police department would have priority when it came to game-day work details. For the next 45 minutes, no deal appeared possible.

Commissioners even appeared to shrug off a direct appeal from Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Alvarez, who told them at one point, with feeling, "I need your support."

Then Robert DuPuy, Major League Baseball's president and chief operating officer, rose to bring perspective to the direction in which the commission appeared to be heading.

"I just want you to know that if you decide not to make a decision tonight, that will be the death knell for baseball in Miami," DuPuy said. "We are out of time."

The tone of the meeting quickly changed, in the Marlins' favor. Diaz changed his tune and made an impassioned speech in favor of approving the agreement.

When a vote was finally taken, at about 8:30 p.m. ET, commissioners, with one person absent, voted 9-3 in favor of the deal. The three negative votes were later changed to make the decision unanimous.

DuPuy didn't want any credit afterward for giving a wakeup call to the commission.

"Another hour or so, and it probably would have changed anyway," he said. "All I had to do was become a catalyst."

The Miami City Commission had approved its share of the finances for a stadium, 4-1, in the morning. Then, with much tension, the Miami-Dade Commission took nearly seven hours to complete the sweetest one-day perfecta in Marlins history.

Construction is scheduled to start by November, with the stadium ready for the opening of the 2011 season. The Marlins' Dolphin Stadium lease, long a problem because the club did not share in parking or concession revenues, expires after the 2010 season.

The stadium cost is estimated at $525 million, and the city has agreed to build an on-site, 6,000-space parking lot at an additional approximate cost of $94 million.

The county's tab adds up to $347 million, all but $50 million to be derived from tourist-tax revenues. The Marlins, who will contribute $155 million, will get $120 million in loans, and the other $35 million will be fronted by the county and paid back through yearly rent payments of $2.3 million.

In addition to building the parking garage, the city picks up $23 million, including $10 million for the demolition and cleanup of the Orange Bowl, the site of the new stadium.

The stadium, which the county will own, is slated to have 37,000 seats, including 3,000 club seats and 60 suites. It also will have a retractable roof, as it often rains -- or threatens to -- in the late afternoon during South Florida summers.

As part of the Baseball Stadium Agreement, the Marlins will change their name to the Miami Marlins and not relocate for 35 years.

Miami-Dade county manager George Burgess hopes to have the other aspects of the agreement in place by July. He mentioned a construction-administration team, a stadium manager, a design-revue committee and more specific hiring practices.

Burgess seemed satisfied that the Marlins are expected to pay about 30 percent of the cost. DuPuy said that ratio represents "on the higher end" of the amount a Major League team has contributed in recent history toward the construction of a stadium.

The Marlins also have agreed to be responsible for any cost overruns that are not the fault of the city or county, Burgess said. The team has committed to put up a $20 million guarantee toward that end. Some commissioners argued that that won't be nearly enough.

In his pitch to the County Commission in favor of the stadium, Alvarez said, in part, "Baseball is for families. We're not building a baseball stadium to the exclusion of everything else. We're building a baseball stadium along with everything else."

Diaz, the Miami mayor, later described his city as "the Ellis Island of this century," and implored the commission to approve a stadium as one way the area can help its reputation as a special destination.

The Marlins agreed to make available a total of 81,000 seats during each season at no more than $15, and agreed to give away 5,000 seats each season to youth charities.

The stadium site will be about 1 1/4 miles from downtown Miami, and Burgess promised to provide adequate public transportation for downtown employees interested in attending games.

A virtual assembly line of people rose to address the county commission, many speaking against the agreement. They included the attorney for car dealer Norman Braman, who has filed a lawsuit objecting to a package of local projects that include the stadium. Braman wants the projects to be put before voters for approval.

Even commissioner Dorrin Rolle wanted a clause put in the agreement to force the Marlins to be competitive. DuPuy rose to point out that since the Marlins began play in 1993, they are one of only three Major League teams with at least two World Series titles. The other two are the Yankees and Red Sox.

DuPuy said that since 1990, there have been 22 Major League stadiums either built or totally renovated.

"And every single one of them has served as a destination point for residents of that area," he said.

DuPuy added that MLB intends to help locally in several other ways as well. He said that MLB will make its first $1 million contribution to help ensure the new stadium is green, and the league also plans to start a youth baseball academy in nearby Hialeah.

DuPuy said that MLB's other academy, in Compton, Calif., has seen 17 of its attendees turn pro in the last two years.

Receiving the green light to build a baseball-only stadium was the realization of a longtime dream for Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who said afterward that he never lost faith that the two mayors -- Alvarez and Diaz -- would be successful in winning support for a stadium.

"This is the final piece of the puzzle," said Loria, who thanked a long list of city and county officials for "saving baseball in Miami."

Charlie Nobles is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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