Here’s an idea. Let’s say you and I buy a car together. I’ve found a great one online for $1,000. My thought is, you pay $800 and I’ll kick in $200. Of course, I’ll need to borrow $80 from you to come up with my share (promise to pay you back). Oh, and I’ll need you to pay for a parking garage to keep it safe from the rain (hurricane season is coming, you know).
But, other than that, it’s “share and share alike!” Did I mention that I’ll be the one driving? Not to worry, though, you’re the “real” owner, and if you ever need a lift, I’ve got you covered … for just $10 a ride.
Absurd? Well, by 3-2 and 9-4 votes, the Florida…I mean Miami Marlins, a private corporation owned by Jeffrey Loria – just got the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County – to buy them that car.
The Marlins played hardball, demanding that the public construct them a $634 million, 37,000-seat retractable roof stadium, plus a parking garage, and offering to put up a relatively modest $120 million (plus $35 million they’ll borrow from the county).
If that sounds like a bum deal, you probably didn’t vote for it. Then again, even if you think it sounds like a small price to pay to keep the team from bolting – for whatever city they credibly believe has the wherewithal, in a recession, to acquire a Major League Baseball franchise and build them their custom stadium – you probably didn’t vote for it either, since there was no public referendum. Just ask former sports franchise owner Norman Braman, who fought unsuccessfully in court to let the public decide.
The cost of the new digs includes $515 million for construction, $94 million for parking (paid for by the city, which is also donating the land), and $25 million for infrastructure improvements at the site of the old Orange Bowl. Miami-Dade County is paying for its share using “tourism tax dollars,” on the never-proven theory that tourists will come to Miami to watch someone else’s home team play ball.
The fact that the stadium deal passed is no surprise. Public money doled out to rich individuals and corporations has become as American as apple pie.
The fact that it passed with the help of the black members of both commissions (Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, whose district includes Overtown, provided a tie-breaking vote in the first go-round), is no surprise, either.
Jobs are sorely needed in their districts, and the Marlins came prepared to make concessions. And yet, were the stadium to be built at the old Miami Arena site downtown,
Overtown might have had a shot at landing some residual development. But the site was deemed too small, and not nearly fabulous enough for the Marlins, who successfully played the screaming kid in the supermarket to the city’s and county’s flummoxed parents.
The Marlins and their supporters successfully made the case that the new stadium will mean “jobs, jobs, jobs,” including in the black community. If you're feeling a bit skeptical, it might be because you heard the same thing last January when the public voted overwhelmingly to allow gambling at horse and dog tracks based on the same promise. So, how’s that working out for you, Miami-Dade?
Also, a compact signed between the Marlins, the Miami-Dade NAACP and the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, specifying that 15 percent of stadium contracts would go to black-owned firms, was stricken following objections by the county attorney over its legality. Instead, the Miami-Dade NAACP will conduct “recruitment and outreach” regarding the opportunities at the stadium.
But even if the stadium creates all 3,300 jobs as advertised, that’s more than $150,000 in public money per job created. As for other concessions, like baseball clubs, park improvements, $500,000 a year in charitable donations ($125,000 local), and even the expansion of the Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency, you’ve got to wonder whether the public’s money might have been better spent making those improvements directly, and letting the Marlins get a stadium the old-fashioned way: on their own.
Joy-Ann Reid is a writer and media/political strategist who worked on President Barack Obama’s Florida campaign.