MIAMI -- After more than a decade of negotiating and waiting, a date to begin construction on the Marlins' new retractable-roof ballpark has been set.
In an exclusive interview with MLB.com, team president David Samson announced on Monday that the ceremonial groundbreaking will take place on July 18, the Saturday after the All-Star break.
Festivities at the new site -- on the Orange Bowl grounds in the Little Havana section of Miami -- are scheduled to get under way at 10 a.m. ET and last until noon. The public is invited.
"We encourage all fans to come to the site," Samson said. "They will witness history."
Groundbreaking will launch construction of the 37,000-seat stadium that is scheduled to open in 2012.
"There is going to be a ceremony. There will be activities for fans to do," Samson said. "There will be dirt dug. It is an official beginning to the construction."
Technically, workers will be on the Orange Bowl grounds to start building on July 1. The first few weeks, however, will be devoted to preparing the area for building. The July 18 ceremony will take place hours before the Marlins face the Phillies that night at Land Shark Stadium, the club's home until the new park is ready.
"The fact is construction does begin on July 1," Samson said. "But the first 17 days, what you will see, it's called demolition and grade. They will grade the site, and get it ready for digging, if you will. The digging will take place around July 16, 17, 18 or 19.
"We have to get the site completely ready to be built. You'll see trailers on site. You'll see workers on site, starting July 1."
Groundbreaking will take place nearly four months after Miami-Dade County commissioners finalized the stadium deal on March 23. It's been a long road to reach this point for the organization, which began play in 1993. Three separate owners all tried to get a new ballpark built.
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria purchased the team in 2002, and the process of building the park is weeks away from becoming reality.
"[Groundbreaking] is a day that our whole organization has envisioned since Feb. 15, 2002," said Samson, citing the specific date Loria took over the team.
As an organization, the Marlins view the official groundbreaking as one of the top days in the history of the franchise.
Currently, on marlins.com, fans can track developments on the construction site by viewing the New Ballpark Webcam. The camera was installed recently and it will remain online until the Marlins move into the facility in 2012.
Right now, there are four flag poles on the site, representing where the bases will be.
"It will not look like an abandoned site, but any stretch," Samson said of groundbreaking day. "We love winning World Series, and we want to keep winning World Series. That is for sure. But when you are talking about a new ballpark, you're talking about saving the franchise."
Expected to be on hand for groundbreaking will be South Florida elected officials and representatives from Major League Baseball.
One final financial hurdle must be cleared before the groundbreaking. In mid June, Miami-Dade County officials will begin the sale of bonds backed by tourist tax dollars to pay for the new ballpark.
This formality is common with any new stadium financing, and Samson says everything is moving along smoothly on the bond ratings front.
"The bonds have been rated. They're all A-plus or above," Samson said. "Now, the county will be going to market within the next week to two weeks, and everyone feels confident.
"The market has been much healthier than it's been in a long time. We are as confident as ever that everything is fine."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less