Neighborhood Bully

Think financing a Marlins ballpark is tricky? Just try finding a place to put it

As for the Orange Bowl, the consultants suggested two possibilities: tearing down the 65-year-old football stadium and replacing it with a ballpark, or building a ballpark adjacent to it. Both are fraught with problems. Access to the site is poor, as anyone who attends University of Miami football games knows. Public transportation is virtually nonexistent, forcing fans to drive through residential neighborhoods looking for a parking space on someone's front lawn. That chaotic scenario may be manageable with a UM football schedule that includes five or six home games each year, but the Marlins calendar is dramatically different, with more than 80 home games per season. Even with smaller crowds, the consultants predicted, a baseball stadium would seriously disrupt the neighborhood.

Another drawback to the Orange Bowl is the low probability it would be of economic benefit to the area. As the consultants wrote: "This site would present extremely limited spin-off development. It does not draw pedestrian traffic from the central business district, and it will not benefit from the clustering effect created by multiple anchors."

The biggest hurdle to the first Orange Bowl option -- demolishing the stadium -- is the city's ten-year agreement with UM, now entering its third year, to host the Hurricanes football team. According to the consultants, "the city would be required to determine the fair-market value of the [UM] agreement, which would include compensation of all future lost revenue streams." That could be a very expensive proposition. "As far as I am concerned, the Orange Bowl is the permanent home of the University of Miami," says Winton, whose comments are echoed by Miami City Manager Joe Arriola.

Natys Mendoza and Antonio Ferray would love the Marlins to play at the Orange Bowl, but they don't want to lose their homes to a new stadium
Francisco Alvarado
Natys Mendoza and Antonio Ferray would love the Marlins to play at the Orange Bowl, but they don't want to lose their homes to a new stadium

If the city is unwilling to scrap the Orange Bowl, the only option is to build a ballpark next to it. In 2001 the consultants determined that the new structure should sit on the east side of the bowl. In addition to problems of access and negligible economic benefits, the eastward "expansion," as it was called, presented a most unwelcome predicament: The city would have to acquire 94 privately owned parcels, virtually all of them residential. Several hundred people would be forced out of their homes or apartments at an estimated cost of $20 million to $25 million. The ballpark design now being considered by the Marlins is more compact than the one envisioned in 2001, but many single-family homes and apartment buildings would still need to be condemned and torn down.

The neighborhood around Fourteenth Avenue and NW Fifth Street is a classic Miami mix of Latin American immigrants. On a recent Saturday afternoon, Zenida Leal, her cousin Natys Mendoza, and their friend Antonio Ferray sat on the front porch of Leal's tidy one-story home on NW Fourth Street. "If they can convert the Orange Bowl into a baseball stadium, I'm all for it," 72-year-old Leal said in Spanish. "Do you know how many people from this neighborhood would start going to games?"

But a ballpark that forced them out was another story. "Why would they want to expand into the neighborhood?" asked 66-year-old Ferray. "They have plenty of land already. They can save a lot of money by building on top of the Orange Bowl."

Added 63-year-old Mendoza: "Taking away someone's house to build another stadium doesn't make sense. Where are we going to go?"

Similar apprehensions were expressed by another neighborhood resident, who has lived in his home for twelve years. "I own an apartment building on NW Thirteenth Avenue," he said. "I live off the rent. A new baseball stadium would shut me down." He insisted that his name not appear in print. Why? Last time he publicly castigated Miami officials, he explained, he was immediately hit with hundreds of dollars in fines for code violations.

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