11/25/08 10:20 AM EST
New Marlins stadium to open in 2012
Project unchanged but opening pushed back by lawsuit
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
After months of speculation, the timeline for the stadium has now changed. According to Marlins president David Samson, the team's new home is now slated to open in 2012, rather than 2011 as hoped.
The delay is a direct result of the lawsuit brought forward by South Florida auto dealer Norman Braman, who unsuccessfully challenged the public funding aspect of the project.
Even though the Marlins won all seven counts in the lawsuit, which was concluded last week, what was lost was time to get the building completed by the initial target date.
Samson makes it clear that the one-year setback in no way threatens the stadium from being built. The cost for the 37,000-seat, retractable-roof park at the Orange Bowl grounds will also remain the same -- at $515 million.
To make 2012, the Marlins say they must break ground in May 2009.
"This is because of Braman," Samson told MLB.com. "It's not because of the economy. It's not because of any issues with the [final] documents. It's not because of any of that. We are on schedule [for 2012], and everything is going to be fine."
Samson noted that he hopes to release renderings of what the building will look like in a couple of weeks. The team has been waiting until after the lawsuit to reveal the drawings.
The decision to open in 2012 came after months of evaluations between the team and the builders, Hunt/Moss, and HOK Sport, the stadium designer.
"The delay caused by the frivolous litigation has directly led to this decision," Samson said. "We were put into a position that the risk of opening in 2011 was no longer manageable.
"Opening in 2012 will not impact the project cost at all. The total project cost is still $515 million. The team is still covering every penny of overrun, if any. No matter what the overruns are."
The Marlins had been eyeing 2011 because their current lease with Dolphin Stadium expires after the 2010 baseball season.
Because of the delay, the Marlins are seeking a place to play in 2011. The team is optimistic it can work out an agreement to remain at Dolphin Stadium for an additional year. Samson said the organization already has begun preliminary talks with Dolphins co-owner Stephen Ross to extend the team's lease.
The Marlins, Miami Dolphins and University of Miami football team all are currently sharing Dolphin Stadium.
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has been in direct contact with Ross. The team is confident the extension will be reached.
As a courtesy, Samson also contacted University of Miami president Donna Shalala to inform her of the Marlins' revised plans.
"Of course, we want to get into the new building as quickly as possible," Samson said. "But recognizing that a one-year delay does not change the fact that we are all securing the future of Major League Baseball in South Florida forever.
"By opening in 2012. Hunt/Moss will have a construction schedule without acceleration costs that makes the entire project less risky, thus enabling all of us, to manage an on-time, on-budget construction."
Before the end of the year, the Marlins are hopeful the remaining documents that must receive local approval will be presented to commissioners from the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County. The hope is to have those last documents voted on by commissioners in January.
"We firmly expect to have definitive documents in front of commissioners within weeks," Samson said. "And hopefully prepare for a vote in front of the city and the county commissions in January. We plan to break ground during the month of May 2009."
Stadium construction is expected to take 34 months.
Since their inaugural 1993 season, three separate Marlins owners have tried to get a baseball-only ballpark. Loria assumed ownership in 2002, and the team has aggressively and tirelessly worked to get the project this close to construction. After winning the World Series in 2003, the Marlins felt they would have already been in a new stadium. But any momentum generated then was stalled when their bid for state funding was repeatedly rejected by the Florida Legislature.
In February, the project was approved, and it doesn't include any state backing. It is a public-private venture between the Marlins, the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County.
"There is no question that our original intent was to open the stadium in 2005," Samson said. "Having said that, Jeffrey Loria's commitment to Miami, and the governments and the people's commitments to having a first-class facility, and a first-class baseball team, in a world-class city, remains as strong as ever."
Because of their financial limitations playing in a football stadium, the Marlins have repeatedly been at or near the bottom of the league in player salaries. In 2008, Florida spent a league-low $22 million on its players, but still finished a respectable 84-77.
Team president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest is working with a payroll of around $35 million in 2009. Even though they are economically strapped, the Marlins are continuing to produce a quality product, featuring some of the top young talent in the game, including All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
In their new building, the Marlins payroll projects to rise to the middle of the pack among the 30 Major League teams. But until the team is actually in the ballpark, it is expected to remain cost conscious.
"We are going to continue to have a payroll that matches revenues," Samson said. "We are very mindful of that as we put the team together. Larry is aware of the new schedule. But we do not use our payroll as an excuse to not having a competitive team. We expect to have competitive teams every year. We are not waiting to get into the new stadium to have a competitive team. We expect we will have one next year, as well."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.