MIAMI – With City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones casting the deciding vote, Miami commissioners on Thursday approved a deal authorizing construction of a new Marlins stadium, by a vote of 3-2.
Commissioners Angel Gonzalez and Joe Sanchez voted for the deal with Spence-Jones. Commissioners Tomas Regalado and Marc Sarnoff were opposed.
Dozens of residents spoke both for and against the ballpark during the public hearing. Many who spoke in favor of the deal said it would bring jobs to the area’s hard-hit construction industry.
To help seal the deal, the Marlins agreed to increase the share of its profits to the city and Miami-Dade County. County commissioners are slated to cast their vote on Monday, March 23.
If county commissioners approve the deal, the 37,000-seat stadium would be constructed on the site of the demolished Orange Bowl in Little Havana.
The increased profits would kick in if team owner Jeffrey Loria sells the ball club within nine years of the start of the stadium’s construction.
The new numbers begin at 70 percent of any profit, falling to 5 percent in the ninth year. Under the old agreement, the profit share began at 18 percent, and went down from there. Also in the new agreement, the Marlins would pay $500,000 each year to a charity of the team's choice, with $125,000 of that money going to the city and county for the first few years.
More than 70 people addressed the city commission on Thursday, including many unemployed laborers who said they were in favor of the stadium. Protestors and supporters of the project demonstrated outside of city hall before the commission meeting, with protestors calling for “No Marlins Bailout.’’
The city’s approval comes days after a Community Compact Agreement between the Marlins, the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP and the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce was canceled due to objections from Miami-Dade County Attorney Robert Cuevas.
In a joint statement, Bishop Victor T. Curry, president of the Miami-Dade NAACP; Bill Diggs, president of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce – which represents black-owned businesses – and David Samson, president of the Florida Marlins, expressed disappointment with Cuevas’ interpretation of the agreement.
The agreement between the Marlins, the chamber and the NAACP, signed on March 13, would have guaranteed contracts for black-owned businesses during the construction and operation of the proposed $639 million ballpark in Miami.
The agreement, signed by Samson, Curry and Diggs, called for the Marlins to provide black-owned businesses with 15 percent of the Marlins’ private contribution in construction contracts, in addition to other community enrichment provisions.
Cuevas, according to news reports, told county commissioners that he could neither approve the stadium deal nor allow it to come up for a vote because the Marlins essentially entered into a contract with the two local groups based on race.
The county no longer awards race-based contracts since the practice was ruled unconstitutional in the late 1990s.
After meeting to discuss the legalities of the deal, the three organizations determined that scrapping the agreement for black-owned businesses, at least for now, was in the best interest of the proposed stadium.
“This Compact was supposed to mark the beginning of a new day for our community,’’ Curry said. “We carefully constructed this Compact so as not to violate any existing law.”
In the joint statement, Samson said, “We have always and continue to believe, that the Community Compact between three private parties does not conflict with Federal law. However, at the urging of the County Attorney, we have agreed to rescind the Compact.”
Diggs, who spoke in favor of the stadium deal at the city commission meeting, said that similar agreements exist around the country, and that Cuevas should have explored those arrangements before making his decision.
“We’ve talked to other attorneys and we’ve taken a look at other deals around the country that have been done the same way,’’ Diggs said during a telephone interview. “He seems to think that this is a real set-aside program versus diversity tools to make sure that we get a piece of what ought to be a real opportunity. Plus, it’s a private contract between three organizations.”
Diggs said a search of the Internet would have revealed to Cuevas that there are other agreements between Major League Baseball operations and organizations similar to the chamber and NAACP.
“We gave them examples. He has not read those examples. The case law he actually quoted was from 1961, and, by the way it wasn’t case law that he came up with, it was his staff,” Diggs said.
He said the real reason that Cuevas has a problem with the agreement is because of legal defeats he’s suffered in other race-based cases.
“Cuevas is more than gun-shy. He’s lost two separate cases in regards to affirmative action…he’s scared to death,” Diggs said. “He’s standing in the way of progress. We have a private organization that’s trying to be a trailblazer in what they’re doing. He’s standing in the way of that.”
Victoria Mallette, spokeswoman for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, issued the following statement on Alvarez’s behalf:
“While the Marlins/Miami-Dade Chamber/NAACP Compact was one that did not directly involve the County, Mayor Alvarez shares the goal of all parties involved – to ensure the greatest amount of inclusion possible as we move forward with a proposed baseball stadium. With or without the Compact, Miami-Dade County’s commitment to inclusion remains.”
Other county officials have also weighed in on the issue.
“[Miami-Dade County Commissioner Carlos] Gimenez made some ridiculous comment that the county attorney told the Marlins two weeks ago that they couldn’t do this. We didn’t even have an agreement two weeks ago. So for him to say that is an absolute lie. If Cuevas said it, then he’s clairvoyant. If he’s clairvoyant, he should have called everybody then,” Diggs said.
Diggs said Cuevas also flip-flopped during their meeting on whether he was aware that the Marlins had set up a separate bank account, which is not subject to the county’s procurement process, to hold the money for the agreement.
“Cuevas said he wasn’t aware of it. It’s in the Construction Management Agreement. He’s not seen it. That’s absurd. I told him that it was absurd and five minutes later, he retracted it and said that he did see it,” Diggs said, adding that Cuevas also ignored a report the chamber created to help increase the level of participation by black-owned companies in county business.
“I attempted to show [Cuevas] a document called the inclusion plan that we put together at the request of our mayor and our county manager and he didn’t even open it up. He didn’t even look at it. His mind’s already made up, and that’s tragic,” Diggs said.
“We’re done but we’re not out. We’re going to win this. I’m fully confident that we can. We just have to get someone sitting across the table from us that’s compassionate enough to understand that if this community is going to be the great community that it can be, we’ve got to have people sensitive to the plight of those of us that have helped to build Miami,” Diggs said.
The day before the Marlins inked the historic agreement with the NAACP and chamber, the city commission unanimously approved the expansion of the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency district, which will collect tax dollars to revitalize the area.
The move was a key factor in Spence-Jones’ support for the Marlins stadium, in conjunction with a 2007 agreement between the Marlins, the city and the county that proposed to infuse $3 billion into downtown Miami and Overtown projects, as well as the new ballpark for the Marlins.
Spence-Jones’ office said that she had nothing to do with the timing of the city’s vote and the failed black business agreement, and that her focus has, and will continue to be, to ensure that her community is provided the revenue that it was promised under the 2007 agreement with the Marlins for the Overtown area.
Photo by Elgin Jones. Miami City Hall