The Miami Marlins committed their infamous November fire sale for a variety of stated reasons, But aside from the immediate on-field effects, there have been some significant off-field effects as well. One of the major problems that Miami-Dade county now faces because of the Marlins' rebuilding plans is that the city has found it more difficult to fill up the space intended for retailers underneath Marlins Park's various parking garages.
Two national restaurant chains that had signed letters of intent to open in the parking garages surrounding the facility backed out of their deals, expressing reservations to the city about dwindling crowds and foot traffic.
Now, more than a year since the Marlins first opened the gates to the new Little Havana ballpark — and four years after city and county leaders crowed that building the stadium would be an economic shot in the arm for the area — not a single business is operating in the 8,500 square feet of retail space available in three of the four garages fronting the ballpark.
Last year, the city was already seeing some difficulty filling in these very spots, in part because of concerns by businesses that foot traffic would be light in Little Havana, which is not an affluent neighborhood. However, with the Marlins decreasing the quality of the team on the field, attendance has dropped severely, to the point that the Marlins are tarping the upper bowl on weekdays just to make the environment cozier.
The unintended effect of the fire sale and rebuild is that, because attendance has dwindled even compared to last year, businesses are more fearful of decreased foot traffic near Marlins Park and are thus pulling out of their initial intentions to open up their stores in the parking garage spaces. Two national chains pulled out when the Fish decided to make the November moves, according to Arthur Stevens of Terranova Corp, the company hired to bring in clients for that space.
A week after the November trade, leasing agent Arthur Stevens of Terranova Corp., the firm hired by the city to lure clients to the ballpark, expressed concern about Marco’s Pizza making good on its letter of intent to sign a lease.
"Marco’s is very concerned about what this will do to future attendance,’’ Stevens, who has since left the firm, wrote to the city’s public facilities director, Henry Torre. "Just thought you should know, I’ll keep you posted."
Two months later, in January, Stevens again expressed concern over a client, this time a national restaurant chain named Firefly.
"While we want to do the deal with the Marlins, their investors are worried about the negative impact that the new Marlins team will have on overall traffic, attendance. One of their investors has contacts within who continues to hear not so good things," Stevens wrote Henry in an email.
These examples show the effects of the Marlins doing business for themselves on the county and their problems with funding the team's massive public stadium deal. You see, as part of the stadium deal, the county was to receive the rent on these parking garage spaces. This is the only continued source of income for Miami-Dade county from the stadium premises, as the county already sold its hold on the actual parking spaces for between $10 and $13 per space for the next 30 years. That revenue is set, leaving only the retain spaces as places for the county to profit from their $500 million-plus project.
Yet we are into the second year of Marlins Park and no retailer has yet to open a store in these garage spaces. Previous efforts to bring in tenants have fallen through for various reasons, but this is the first time we have heard the Marlins actually affecting this area of the business, as it is understandable that potential tenants would want to avoid paying rent for spaces that will barely be visited. If the Marlins continue to draw poor crowds to the park, how many fans can be expected to show up before or after games to have dinner or peruse shopping in the garage spaces?
Right now, the spaces have three vendors who have signed leases, but none are open for business. 100 Fires Cigars, one of the first tenants in town, began paying rent to the county in April. Deals are set with Cafe Rubio to start in July and a Subway franchise to start in August.
Right now, however, the prospects of attracting new tenants may be dim. The county's goal all along was to find a large anchor shop to come in, rent out a lot of space, and help attract other businesses to the area due to popularity. But their first intended target, a restaurant chain called the Tilted Kilt, fell through when negotiation details went public and the lease was "poorly drafted" late last year.
"Art, your client is doing the exact opposite of what they should be doing,’’ Werner wrote Stevens in October. "First they send a poorly drafted lease with all the wrong terms and conditions, and now two leaks to papers that shed negative light on the area. Have they never negotiated a lease? Don’t they understand the sensitivity of these type of negotiations?"
Werner, reached Thursday, said his client got "sick of negotiating" with the city over the lease terms, and said that Loria’s dismantling of the team "was the final nail in the coffin."
The county continues to search for a proper anchor, but they may find the market much more difficult now that the Marlins are struggling with little hope for the next year or two.
The worst part about all of this is that it continues the ongoing beatdown that the city of Miami and the county have received at the hands of the Marlins. The city's only revenue from the stadium project to assist in paying off what will eventually be a $2 billion debt is in the parking garage. The team already purchased back its garage spots, leaving the city to live off of the amount they got from the team and the regular income of leases on the retail spaces. If the county cannot find takers on this, they will essentially be blanked from another part of the stadium deal. This time, however, it will be in part because of the Marlins' own business decisions, as the fire sale in November was done so that the team could recuperate on its supposed $40 million operating loss last year.
It was never easy to argue that the stadium deal was a good one for the city, but at least Miami could pin its hopes on a vibrant community each and every weeknight in which the Marlins were in town. But just a year-plus into Marlins Park's existence, it seems that business is floundering both inside and outside the park.