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Miami Ballpark Gets Nod

BRADENTON, Fla. - Miami-Dade County commissioners late Monday approved agreements to build a largely bond-finance baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins - if the bond market cooperates.

After more than a decade of planning for the Major League Baseball park, the 9-to-4 vote approving the deal came after nine hours of public testimony and debate by commissioners largely concerned about the economy and whether revenue streams supporting the debt would hold up.

The 37,000-seat retractable-roof stadium is being built on public land and will cost $515 million.

Another $94 million will be spent to build four parking garages and six surface lots, and another $36.2 million will be spent on public infrastructure and making the facility only the second of its kind to be certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED.

"If we can secure financing by June 1, we can break ground in July," Miami-Dade County manager George Burgess told commissioners Monday night.

However, termination clauses have been built into the construction contracts if it appears that debt cannot be sold. If financing cannot be obtained by July 1, the local governments can back out of the deal but such a move would cost them between $6.5 million and $11 million in termination fees.

By the termination date, the county will know if state lawmakers have passed legislation impacting the county's budget or the stadium itself, Burgess said. The legislative session ends May 1 and one bill has been filed that would require a local government to hold a public referendum if public funds are being used to build professional stadiums.

Burgess also said the time between now and July 1 would allow the county to see how the market is responding, before the bonds are sold, and it would allow officials to take a final look at the performance of tourist-related taxes that will be used to secure the debt.

County funding for the project will be $364.4 million. Of that amount, $304.6 million will be financed with bonds secured by portions of tourist, convention development, and professional sports franchise taxes. The bonds will have maturities between 30 and 40 years.

The city will contribute $25.6 million toward the stadium and $60 million toward the parking facilities. It also will contribute the land on which the stadium will be built. The finance plan for the city's portion of the project was not immediately available.

The team will contribute toward the financing of the parking facilities and contribute $154 million toward the stadium, plus $6 million in other funding toward the project, and guarantee cost overruns. The team will change its name to the Miami Marlins and make other contributions to community facilities.

Burgess said local government would pay 70% of the total project costs, while the team would pay 30% - a deal which resembles the funding arrangements for other new stadium projects over the past decade.

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