This Day In Marlins History: Miami-Dade County approves plan for tax money-funded new ballpark

Chris Trotman

On this day in team history, Miami-Dade County commissioners approved a plan that would put $73 million of taxpayers' money towards the building of a new stadium for the renamed Miami Marlins. Thus began nine contentious years that eventually ended in the costly construction of state-of-the-art Marlins Park.

While a positive step at the time, it proved only to be the beginning of an arduous, still-controversial process that finally resulted in the construction of sparkling Marlins Park. On this date, November 4, 2003, the Miami-Dade County Commissioners approved a plan that would have the county contribute $73 million in taxpayer money towards the funding of a new stadium for the Marlins.

The franchise had been interested in finding and funding a new baseball-only stadium since its inception. Florida moved into the Dolphins' Joe Robbie Stadium (now called Sun Life Stadium) when it began play in 1993, and while it was an adequate facility, the uncomfortably hot and wet weather characteristic of southern Florida, as well as the lesser fan experience that came with using the football-centric building as a baseball park, contributed to keeping attendance at lesser-than-desired levels for original Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga. It was the lack of adequate revenue, blamed on having an inadequate facility for baseball use, that Huizenga pointed to as reasoning for the infamous initial fire sale that occurred after the 1997 championship season. Subsequent owners John Henry and Jeffery Loria subscribed to the same beliefs and desires for a new baseball stadium, which would supposedly solve the franchise's monetary ills and allow the Marlins to become much more financially competitive.

The 2003 World Series title renewed momentum and, critically, public support for a new stadium, since from the beginning it was assumed that significant public funding would be required for any new park. It was in the wake of this new uptick in support that Miami-Dade County made this first funding approval. As part of the plan for the $325 million potential new stadium, the franchise would change its name from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins. But even this positive step carried with it uncertainty--the franchise still had no plan to raise the $137 million it would need to pay to have the stadium ready for play by the 2007 season, the desired target year.

Thus began nine years of strife involving Major League Baseball, Loria and Marlins management, and county and city officials. While the county was, in general, more willing to provide public money than the city of Miami, it was never united in its support for the effort, with several commissioners arguing vehemently against footing so much of the bill. The fact that the Marlins were asking for so much money during what eventually became a significant recession didn't exactly add to any good feeling behind the new stadium campaign, nor did another fire sale that dismantled most of the 2003 champions and continued threats of relocation that left many feeling like the Marlins were bullying or even blackmailing taxpayers. In the spring of 2009, city and county commissioners nevertheless voted to approve the stadium project. By now, the cost of the project had risen to $634 million, and it was revealed that the total cost for the county to repay the bonds it borrowed to help finance it would eventually total $2.4 billion with interest. The next year, leaked documents showed that the Marlins had actually been turning a profit the past several season, despite Loria's cries of poverty that formulated the main argument for the necessity of a new stadium.

After all this, Marlins Park, a lavish, state-of-the-art stadium, eventually opened for business for the 2012 season; another fire sale followed the conclusion of the first year in the new ballpark, making Loria's and past owner's claims and promises seem to ring hollow. The Marlins got their stadium, but at a tremendous cost, and it remains to be seen if it will prove the answer to the franchise's purported financially-based competitive disadvantages and if it will engender the type of positive financial impact on the city and area at large that would make it worth the taxpayers' significant investment. Ten years ago, though, with the team fresh off its second championship and with the county pledging support for a new stadium, the scope and intensity of the controversy that would follow would have seemed difficult to imagine.

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