Longform

Six lies about the Marlins stadium

Like a festering, silver-plated pustule, a grotesquely huge can opener, or just an obscene ode to wasted cash, the new Florida Marlins stadium is rising above Miami's skyline. Whether you're driving down a tree-shaded block in Little Havana or cruising the Dolphin Expressway to South Beach, there it is: a $515 million money sucker that is probably the worst deal for taxpayers of any stadium in America.

As the Marlins have marched to their best start in their last season at Sun Life Stadium, fans are tempted to ignore the damn thing and just enjoy Hanley and Stanton pounding the leather. After all, voters had their revenge in March by ousting Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who did the deal.

But in just three weeks, residents will head back to the polls to elect a new mayor — a leader charged with righting the wrongs that bought the worst public works project in Miami history.

Before the vote, it's more important than ever to revisit the worst lies Dade County leadership and Marlins execs fed the public — from ludicrous claims that the team would go broke without the park, to pledges that the project will revitalize Little Havana, to the apathetic idea there's nothing left to fight about.

Look away from the monstrosity if you must, but don't forget the six biggest Fish tales about the new stadium.

BIG FAT LIE NUMBER 1

Miami politicians were working for taxpayers.

"We are not building a stadium for the Marlins. We are building a stadium for the enjoyment of Miami-Dade County residents." — ex-Mayor Carlos Alvarez, Miami New Times, October 28, 2010

The Ugly Truth: In March 2009, Miami-Dade Commissioner Katy Sorenson looked around the dais, counted the votes, and concluded she had no chance to kill the Marlins stadium. The chamber was packed with team execs and construction lobbyists. So she made a suggestion: "I'd like to offer a friendly amendment," she said, "to name the stadium Bruno Barreiro Stadium."

How right she was. A New Times review has found that the former county commission chairman, whose district includes Little Havana and the site for the new park, took almost $40,000 in donations in 2008 — one in every six dollars of his total take — from firms with an interest in bidding on the project.

What's more, over the next two years, the same interests continued to feed other key stadium deal backers.

Among these opportunists is a hodgepodge of companies including Trigam LLC, Parsons, Skanska, Thunder Electrical, and others. The Munilla family, a finalist to build the $94 million garage project, donated $6,500. A number of the companies that gave Barreiro cash later earned lucrative contracts to build the park; they include H&J Foundation, Contex Construction, and John J. Kirlin Enterprises.

Barreiro — who didn't return messages left with a spokeswoman — hadn't always been a best friend to the construction industry. In 2004, when he raised $63,000 for re-election, less than $1,000 came from the builders and contractors.

"Of course there's a connection between these donations and Barreiro's role in shepherding through this deal," says Norman Braman, the auto magnate who bankrolled Alvarez's recall. "You think it's just a coincidence? That's how this county commission operates. Special interests buy candidates votes and then get a piece of the pie."

Almost as curious was the cash flow of Barreiro's colleague Joe Martinez. He was the key vote to hire — without normal bidding — a group called Hunt/Moss to oversee construction. During the year before the vote, Martinez took $500 checks — the maximum amount individuals can give — from a litany of Moss & Associates' top execs, including three vice presidents and the legal counsel.

Martinez voted against the stadium, but for Hunt/Moss. Why the flip-flop? "I was against the stadium funding," he told New Times. "But Hunt/Moss... seemed very qualified to me."

Still have doubts about for whom the stadium's political backers were really working? Look at the financial reports of the political action committee Mayor Alvarez formed last year to fight his recall. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson personally kicked in $50,000 to keep him in office, Hunt/Moss added $5,000, and a laundry list of other stadium builders gave more than $73,000.

"I think he's an outstanding mayor," Samson told the Miami Herald.

Voters disagreed. Eighty-eight percent gave the big guy the boot.

BIG FAT LIE NUMBER 2

The Marlins are a struggling team that can't survive without a new park at taxpayer expense.

"[Jeffrey Loria] has been losing money like crazy." — Marlins president David Samson, Miami Herald, December 11, 2004

The Ugly Truth: Jorge Costales is a downtown accountant and passionate Marlins fan. The soft-spoken 51-year-old, a Miami resident since his parents came from Cuba when he was 2 years old, has rooted for the Fish since the team's first pitch in 1993. But when his favorite club traded slugger Miguel Cabrera and ace Dontrelle Willis in late 2007, supposedly because it was broke, he couldn't resist crunching the numbers to see if the team owners were honest.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink