The stadium, Judge Beth Cohen ruled in what will likely be the final round in the battle over the whole Little Havana development, "serves a paramount public purpose within the meaning of Article VII, Section 10 of the Florida Constitution." That's a pretty low bar to hurdle, actually. Elected officials are given almost plenary power to legislate in the public interest, and more importantly, are given almost total discretion to determine, what, exactly, the public interest is.
But just because they can do something doesn't mean it's a good idea, and there can be no better evidence of that than the heat-seeking missile Judge Cohen launched at the city fathers and Florida Marlins for embarking on this development in the first place. What follows are excerpts from the opinion. The language, while doing nothing to legally stop the stadium from going forward, is about as blistering as it gets from a judge in a civil case:
The Marlins are getting what amounts to a "sweet deal' that is, put bluntly, not the business of this court. The court is mindful of the fact that if stadium construction costs run over, or if the Marlins cannot meet their obligations pursuant to the [Baseball Stadium Agreement], it may be necessary for the county to expend general revenues used to fund essential services to the county in order to make up any shortfalls. Such a contingency . . . may not be considered by the court . . .So all that is now of record, and thus anything Jeff Loria says about how fabulous this deal is for Miami should be viewed with extreme skepticism.
. . . It is undisputed that the county has no idea whether or not the Marlins can satisfy any of their obligations under the [Baseball Stadium Agreement] or whether or not the new stadium will encourage increased attendance and ticket sales . . .
. . . Plaintiff argues that the Marlins are getting full use of the stadium rent free. While the evidence appears to support this contention, the court does not find it relevant how good a deal government hands the team . . .
. . . The Marlins will retain all revenues from all team and non-team events, including ticket sales; the sale of broadcast rights; the sale of concessions, memorabilia or other products and services; marketing, advertising or other promotional revenues; suite licenses; stadium naming rights, which could be as valuable as $2 million per year; and any assignment, lease or licensing of the stadium itself . . .
. . . The evidence presented at the trial established that the county has never performed (nor commissioned) an economic analysis, study or impact analysis with regards to the economic benefits to the community as a result of having a baseball stadium located in Little Havana . . .
. . .There are no present plans to develop the area and there is no information as to whether businesses are willing to locate to or invest in the Little Havana area in the event a stadium were built there . . .
. . . The more long term economic benefits on Miami-Dade County are difficult to assess and speculative, at best, since no concrete evidence was offered by the county to assess long term economic impact on the county . . . once the stadium is operational, these jobs end . . .
. . .The court can make no findings as to whether a baseball stadium will encourage businesses to relocate to Miami as testified to by the Beacon Council, increase jobs long term, promote the image of Miami as a world class city and, thereby, spur tourism, or increase sales tax revenues . . .
. . .There is no evidence in the record that the building of a stadium in Little Havana will increase attendance and, thereby, promote social cohesion. Simply put, no one will know whether a new retractable roof stadium will increase attendance . . . until it is built . . .
. . . This court is well aware that more citizens may be opposed to the building of the stadium, even to retain the Marlins in Miami, than in favor of building the stadium. These considerations, however, may not sway this court . . .
. . . [I]t is apparent from statements by the commissioners that they were asked to review the materials [in the Baseball Stadium Agreement] and meet with County Manager [George] Burgess the weekend before the meeting [to vote] and had very little opportunity to thoroughly review the materials provided . . .
. . . if the public and the plaintiff believe that their lawmakers have made imprudent or unwise decisions then they should make their feelings known to their elected officials at the ballot box.
According to this companion article, the Miami-Dade commissioners are divided about even going forward with the stadium. Judge Cohen has given them the right to build it. But she has also given them an awful lot to think about.