MIAMI – Arlington taxpayers looking for insight into whether to approve construction of a retractable-roof baseball park for the Texas Rangers need only look 1,300 miles to the east at the new Marlins Park in Miami.
Built in 2012 with a 37,000-seat capacity, the retractable-roof, climate-controlled stadium was pitched to taxpayers there as a 50-50 partnership that would bring economic development and shield fans from tropical storms, heat, and humidity in South Florida.
But the project backfired on Miami taxpayers, turning into more of an 80-20 public-private split, officials there said. The project also led to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez’s recall from office, and little fan growth or economic development, officials said.
On paper, the Marlins Park project looks remarkably similar to the proposed 50-50 public-private partnership deal unanimously approved last month by the Arlington City Council. The city plans to build a new retractable-roof, 38,000-seat stadium to replace the Texas Rangers’ 22-year-old Globe Life Park.
A WFAA-TV analysis, however, revealed that Arlington city officials plan to give the Texas Rangers access to special parking and admissions tax revenues to pay for their half of the construction.
The surcharge -- designed by state lawmakers to help cities pay their share of stadium construction -- could total hundreds of millions of dollars, and when given to the Texas Rangers, may swing the 50-50 public-private split closer to an 80-20 split.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said voters should study details behind any public-private partnership.
“If a baseball team comes to you and says, ‘I want us to be partners,’ well okay, let’s be partners,” Gimenez told WFAA-TV. But he said the public needs to know about any hidden costs or revenues, and “what they’re going to get out of the deal.”
Gimenez said he opposed the Marlin Park deal when he was a county commissioner six years ago. He said he feared taxpayers would be saddled with most of the debt, while the team owners enjoyed most of the economic benefit.
Gimenez believes he was right.
“It just wasn’t a good deal,” he told us. “It was a bad deal for the citizens of Miami Dade County.”
As Marlin Park construction costs continued to spiral higher, public outrage led to lawsuits and a 2011 recall election in which 88 percent of voters called for the removal of then-Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez. The recall vote was the largest municipal recall in U.S. history.
“So, basically, we got nothing,” said Gimenez, who became mayor after Alvarez was removed from office, “[...] and more than half the cost of the stadium was borne by us, the taxpayer.”
Miami New Times Managing Editor Tim Elfrink has written several exposés about Marlins Park.
“Just building a stadium with a retractable roof, just building this huge project that’s somehow going to fix everything – that’s wrong […] is not true,” Elfrink said. “The only thing it’s going to fix is the bottom line for the ownership.”
Elfrink said the public-private stadium deal with the City of Miami, Dade County, and the Marlins is widely regarded as the biggest flop in baseball.
He said the 50-50, public-private partnership ended up costing taxpayers hundreds of million more than they were told.
“This was, for Miami, a catastrophic bad deal for taxpayers,” Elfrink said. “Why? When the details were hammered out, the Miami Marlins ownership wound up paying less than 20 percent.”
Marlins Park is the newest baseball park in the majors – and one of six major league baseball teams with a retractable roof.
The air-conditioned stadium is complete with bells and whistles, including a swimming pool and go-go dancers.
When we went there for a game, fans had mixed opinions about the new stadium.
“This place here, if you guys in Texas get one of these, you are going to be a bunch of happy campers, let me tell you something,” Gregory Tzucanow told WFAA-TV.
Orin Black, another fan, told us that he enjoyed Marlins Park, but said he was surprised Arlington was considering building a new ballpark. “I can’t imagine them knocking it down already.”
Shipp reported from Miami, and Smith reported from Dallas.