- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

MIAMI (AP) - Miami City Commissioners approved a plan to build a $639 million Florida Marlins ballpark Thursday, nudging the long-debated stadium one step closer to reality.

With a 3-2 vote, the commission approved the 37,000-seat stadium on the site of the demolished Orange Bowl. Marlins president David Samson said afterward the team hopes Miami-Dade county commissioners will give final approval to the project at a meeting next week so construction can begin.

“This was a very important day in our franchise,” said Samson, swinging on a World Series analogy to describe how close the team is to getting its long-coveted stadium. “It’s game six or game seven.”

The team faces one last board vote Monday when the Miami-Dade County Commission leadership is scheduled to meet to decide if the project moves forward.

The Marlins, winners of World Series titles in 1997 and 2003, have shared a stadium with the Miami Dolphins football team in the suburban part of the county since the baseball team’s first game in 1993. The Marlins drew an average of 16,688 fans per home game last year.

Plans for the new ballpark _ to be located about 2 miles west of downtown Miami in the Little Havana neighborhood _ call for a retractable roof, something the Marlins want to help draw more fans in the rainy, humid South Florida summers.

Dozens of residents weren’t so thrilled with the idea, however, and were among the 75 people who spoke during the public hearing. They worried that the cash-strapped community will shoulder much of the risk of financing the stadium.

“Now is not the time to fall into the same trap of building for the sake of building,” said Hashim Benford of the Miami Workers Center. “We need jobs that are long-term and sustainable.”

Philanthropist and art collector Martin Margulies called the project “shameful.”

“I’m against this bailout,” he said. “Taxpayers have been denied the right to vote.”

But supporters said hotel bed taxes will finance most of the construction on the project, with the Marlins paying $119 million and repaying a $35 million loan from the county. Many also point to the number of construction jobs that will be created as proof that the project will be good for Miami _ which has 22 percent of its’ families living under the poverty line.

“We need this stadium, we need the jobs, we need the baseball here in Miami,” said Barry Johnson of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

Fred Frost, President of the South Florida AFL-CIO, voiced his support.

“How we act today is going to elevate the city of Miami and South Florida,” he said.

The Marlins did agree to several requests from commissioners, including a promise to employ local residents, to donate $500,000 to charily each year and to build community ballparks around the county.

Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez applauded the vote from the team’s spring training session in Jupiter, Fla.

“That’s a big hurdle,” said Gonzalez. “Now we go on to the next one and hopefully we get that one passed and get a shovel in the ground.”



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