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Marlins extend deadline for stadium deal

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Marlins extend deadline for stadium deal


Marlins President David Samson has extended a deadline for a stadium proposal, even as state funding seems uncertain.




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Florida Marlins President David Samson said Wednesday that he is willing to extend the team's deadline for a stadium deal by five days so Miami commissioners can vote May 6 on the latest proposal, which city officials said calls for a stand-alone, retractable-roof stadium next to the Orange Bowl in Little Havana.


Samson again declined to provide the specifics of the plan to pay for the stadium, but pledged to get a complete package to the Legislature in time for it to consider a $60 million state tax rebate for the team before the annual session ends next week.


Miami City Manager Joe Arriola said he would have a plan ready for the team to evaluate by Monday, then would take it to the commission May 6 after final discussions between the city and Marlins executives.


Neither Samson nor Arriola would go into detail, but Miami Commissioner Joe Sanchez said it now calls for building a separate ballpark on the southwest corner of the Orange Bowl property.


The stadium would be built partly on city-owned parking lots and partly on privately owned rental properties that the city would either purchase or acquire through eminent domain, Sanchez said.


When Arriola introduced the Orange Bowl as a possible site in December, he proposed attaching the new ballpark to the 73-year-old landmark Little Havana football stadium. But that dual-facility plan is no longer being considered.


Samson said the team still wants a $325 million stadium that would seat 38,000 people and have a retractable roof. He has consistently refused to eliminate the roof to reduce the cost, saying that even the threat of rain would keep potential visitors away.


Samson's comments came one day after top state lawmakers all but killed a plan to give the team $60 million in sales-tax rebate money. Both Senate President Jim King and House Speaker Johnnie Byrd oppose the rebate, likely dooming it. But Samson said he hopes to sway legislators.


''That's our goal, to put a package together with only state money missing before the session ends,'' he said.


While Samson didn't dismiss the possibility of building a ballpark without the state's help, he said, ``It's going to be tough.''


So far, the Marlins have committed $137 million and the county $73 million in hotel bed-tax money. Even if the state does give the Marlins the $60 million rebate, that would still leave the team about $55 million short of its $325 million estimate.


Some of that money could be made up with the possible sale of Miami Arena. Parking-lot magnate Jacob ''Hank'' Sopher has offered $25 million for the seldom-used city facililty, and Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess says the sale would free up more bed-tax money that could be used for a stadium.


The county now gives Miami about $6 million a year in bed-tax money to cover the arena's costs and pay off its bond debt. Burgess would not say how much of that could go toward the stadium.


''The sale of the arena is a pot that can go toward baseball,'' Burgess said. ``The sale actually would create more money that wasn't envisioned before.''


The new Orange Bowl plan comes almost six months after Arriola suggested that property as a stadium site.


The Marlins were initially cool to it, but Samson said Tuesday that the property is now considered the team's best option.


Some city officials, including Mayor Manny Diaz, expressed concern that the delay over the site choice might have hurt the proposal's chances in the Legislature.


''If they had accepted it in January, maybe we would have had a deal by now and gone hand and hand to the state for funding, and had a much better chance,'' Diaz said.


After hearing of the new Orange Bowl plan, the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University released the findings of a poll that focused on the Orange Bowl as the place to build a ballpark.


The study, commissioned and paid for by FIU, found that 80 percent of the 600 respondents considered themselves Marlins fans and that 73 percent believed the Orange Bowl to be the best site available.


Still, nearly 55 percent of those polled either opposed or strongly opposed using public money to build a baseball stadium.


Herald staff writers Oscar Corral and Michael Vasquez contributed to this report.

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