BRADENTON, Fla. — The Securities and Exchange Commission has opened what appears to be a sweeping investigation into the new, largely bond-financed stadium for Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins.
The retractable-roof facility with 37,000 seats is just five months away from opening near downtown Miami, and is expected to cost more than $600 million.
Panahi demanded to receive by Jan. 6 an expansive list of documents, video, and audio recordings relating to the financings, and dealings with MLB and the Marlins, including the ball club’s ability to contribute to the stadium financing.
The Marlins contributed $120 million to the project while the rest was publicly funded. Like other professional teams have done, the Marlins threatened to leave south Florida if a new stadium wasn’t built. The team currently plays in the Miami Dolphins football stadium.
In 2009 and 2010, Miami-Dade County sold the bulk of financing for the new ballpark. The SEC said it is seeking information relating to the 2009A-E professional sports facilities tax revenue bonds in a 20-page letter and subpoena sent to Miami-Dade County attorney R.A. Cuevas. As of Sept. 30, 2010, $325.5 million of bonds were outstanding, including a $5 million taxable piece.
The SEC did not request information on $51 million of tax-exempt general obligation bonds, Series 2010A, which the county also sold as part of the ballpark financing.
In a nearly identical letter to Miami city attorney Julie Bru, the SEC sought information on $84.54 million of Series 2010A tax-exempt special obligation revenue bonds and $16.83 million of 2010B taxable revenue bonds sold to build four parking garages and retail space for the stadium.
“Pursuant to the subpoena, I am directing my staff to assemble all responsive documents in the custody and control of the Miami-Dade County attorney’s office,” Cuevas wrote to Panahi last week.
Cuevas said he was forwarding the SEC’s request to all 13 county commissioners and the mayor, as well as other elected county officials, and he doubted that the county would be able to meet a Jan. 6 deadline to transmit all the information requested by the SEC.
Miami officials did not respond to requests for comment. The cash-strapped City Council learned recently that it may be forced to pay property taxes on the parking garages for the stadium.
Miami-Dade County property appraiser Pedro Garcia told the council that the garages may go on the tax rolls upon completion because they will not be used solely for a public purpose. The reason is that the city leased all 5,700 parking spaces to the Marlins for every home game and special team events, he said.
The city could be liable for up to $2 million a year in taxes because the contract between the city and the Marlins specifically states that the city will be responsible for all taxes.
Garcia said he expects to make a final determination about the tax liability in January when the structures would go on the tax roll.
In addition to information about the stadium deals, the SEC also has asked Miami for all documents with the Internal Revenue Service concerning the parking facility bonds, as well as all legal and tax opinions.
City officials did not respond when specifically asked if the IRS had made an inquiry into its bonds.
A market expert said nothing may become of the SEC inquiry, though it is early in the investigation.
The SEC is already investigating other bond deals sold by Miami and Miami-Dade County.