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Tax break for Marlins stadium gains ground

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Tax break for Marlins stadium gains ground in state House


By Linda Kleindienst And Mark Hollis

Tallahassee Bureau

Posted April 26 2005, 8:31 PM EDT


TALLAHASSEE -- Miami-Dade County's quest for state help with a new $420 million Florida Marlins ballpark got a boost from the state House on Tuesday, winning preliminary approval in a bill that also sets aside money for Fort Lauderdale to improve its spring training facility for the Baltimore Orioles.


It was a dramatic turn around for the stadium proposal, which had been blocked - and already pronounced dead - by House Finance and Tax Committee Chairman Fred Brummer.



But Miami-Dade Republicans used their collective political muscle in both houses of the Legislature to move the $60 million tax break ahead, hoping to win final approval by the session's scheduled May 6 adjournment.


In the House, Procedural Chairman Marco Rubio of Miami, who is slated to become House speaker in late 2006, tacked the Marlins amendment onto an economic development bill aimed at helping county convention centers. The same amendment calls for the state to help four cities, among them Fort Lauderdale, refurbish spring training facilities.


Almost simultaneously, a key Senate committee agreed by a one-vote margin to keep the stadium alive with a likely caveat that the team keep its name as the Florida Marlins and not change to the Miami Marlins.


"If the money is that important, maybe it shouldn't be left to doubt…that it should be known forever more as the Florida Marlins," said Sen. Skip Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, a Marlins fan. He voted to get the measure out of committee with assurances from Senate Majority Leader Alex Villalobos of Miami that the name change issue would be considered by the full Senate.


Now in its fourth try, this is the farthest the stadium proposal has come in the legislative process. Previously it was the team asking for the $2 million a year, 30-year tax break. This year it was the county, city of Miami and the team that presented a financing package to the state.


The county and city have estimated that a new ballpark next to the Orange Bowl would raise $8 million of new sales tax revenue a year.


"If this amendment is not approved and, God forbid, this team would leave this great state, we would have nothing," said Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, a prime sponsor of the House measure.


Opponents accuse the team of double-dipping. In 1993, H. Wayne Huizenga got the same tax break when he owned the Marlins to help remodel then-Joe Robbie Stadium to accommodate baseball. The team is now owned by Jeffrey Loria and has a lease at Dolphins Stadium that expires in 2010.


"This is all trumped up to get the second $60 million," said Rep. Susan Bucher, D-West Palm Beach. "What precludes all the other teams from coming back for their second $60 million?"


But House Tourism Chairwoman Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said help for the teams will spur economic development and tourism.


"I feel real uncomfortable standing up defending more money for sports teams," she conceded. "However, tourism is our number one issue. Florida is in the glamour business. It's what we do."


Rubio's amendment won on a voice vote.


"It's a good day so far…I'm optimistic," said a smiling Miami Mayor Manny Diaz as he left the House gallery.


Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa agreed the state has a right to be heard on the name change issue and said she would bring it up with fellow commissioners.


"We need to come together and talk," she said. "We mainly want to keep the franchise in Miami and in the state."


The Marlins had no comment on the name change. Under a non-binding agreement the team signed with the city and county, the name would only be changed if the two local governments requested it.


Linda Kleindienst can be reached at [email protected] or 850-224-6214.



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