Miami-Dade County commissioners on Monday put to rest more than a decade-long quest by voting in favor of a retractable-roof ballpark for the Marlins on the Orange Bowl grounds. Commissioners cast two separate votes, the first came back, 9-4, and the second was 10-3.
Since winning the World Series in 1997, three separate Marlins owners have sought a baseball-only facility. Now that will become a reality. The next step is moving toward breaking ground by July in hopes of getting the building open by 2012.
"You'd kind of hope that after eight, nine, 10 years, something does come out of it," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said. "It got done tonight. Eventually, I thought it was going to happen. Miami is really a great place to live. You need a baseball team not to leave. It's now resolved."
From the time they entered the league in 1993, the Marlins have shared Dolphin Stadium with the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
The retractable-roof park will seat 37,000 on the Orange Bowl grounds in the Little Havana section of Miami.
Moving into their own home is part of rebirth of the franchise. When the team begins playing at the Orange Bowl, it will be renamed the Miami Marlins. The club's lease at the park is 35 years.
The vote came after 9 1/2 hours of meetings.
MLB President and COO Bob DuPuy was at the meeting, representing the league.
"Major League Baseball is thrilled over the outcome tonight," DuPuy said. "This was an extraordinary session, and I thank everybody in the county for their hard work. There is a lot of hard work still to do, but the fun part starts now."
The team is under lease to remain at Dolphin Stadium through 2010. With the new park scheduled to open in 2012, the team will begin negotiating with Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross for a one-year extension.
Literally thousands of hours went into negotiating the project. And the current stadium deal on the Orange Bowl grounds has been in the works for 2 1/2 years.
The cost of the project is $625 million for the stadium and a parking lot. It's a public/private venture that includes input from the Marlins, Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami.
"I want to thank Jeffrey Loria, the owner of this team, who from Day 1 made a mandate and committed us to getting this deal done," Marlins president David Samson said. "I'm very humbled today, because the work starts. The partnership starts now.
"All the work we've done to get to this point is very exciting, and I'm very glad. But when you hear Mr. Loria talk about the benefits of Miami-Dade and all the people of Miami-Dade, that starts today."
Before reaching the county commission, the city of Miami approved the project by a 3-2 vote on March 19.
After the votes were counted, representatives from the city of Miami joined Miami-Dade County commissioners during the news conference. Also on hand were Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez and city of Miami mayor Manny Diaz.
"Now, we've got to get the stadium built," Alvaraz said after thanking the work of the city and county. "It means a lot of jobs, and that's what we heard from our community tonight. ... It's a good day for Miami-Dade County."
With the park now a reality, Major League Baseball and the Marlins will move forward with the construction of an Urban Youth Academy in Hialeah, Fla., which is north of downtown Miami in Miami-Dade County.
Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina spoke publicly in favor of the park, and he noted the benefits the youth academy will make for all of South Florida.
"My goal is to have it ready by the end of 2010, the beginning of 2011," Robaina said. "There is a lot of infrastructure that has to be done. We're hoping to have it done by that time frame."
Officially, the county will own the ballpark.
The Youth Academy will be similar to the one MLB opened in Compton, Calif.
Monday brought finality to a stadium agreement that was first approved in February 2008. Even though the tentative stadium agreement passed more than a year ago, remaining documents needed the approval of commissioners. Because of a series of setbacks -- including a lawsuit challenging funding of the project filed by local auto dealer Norman Braman -- the vote was delayed until Monday.
In the Braman lawsuit, all seven of his charges were defeated. But while the judge ruled in favor of the Marlins, the length of the suit caused a delay in finalizing the project. Initially, the stadium was slated to open in 2011. The holdup pushed the new timeline to 2012.
Major League Baseball has stressed its commitment to South Florida, considering it the "Gateway to the Caribbean." The league has offered a series of initiatives to help promote baseball in the market.
Last week, Dolphin Stadium was the site of second-round games of the World Baseball Classic.
The Marlins will seek hosting the finals of the 2013 World Baseball Classic. And the organization is confident it will be awarded an MLB All-Star Game within a few years after the doors in the new park are open.
DuPuy has been a fixture at the meetings, and he addressed the commission, urging the benefits of the ballpark.
"When you finally have the All-Star Game, which you deserve here in a new ballpark, it's a five-day celebration for the community," DuPuy said to commissioners during the meeting. "When you have the finals of the World Baseball Classic, the World Series, your county will be showcased in 13 languages in 225 countries and over 100 million people. No brochure can bring you that type of exposure."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.