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Set-asides for Marlins ballpark scrapped; city to vote tomorrow

A promise by the Florida Marlins to set aside 15 percent of the team’s contribution to a proposed new ballpark was scrapped after local officials determined it would be illegal.
A promise by the Florida Marlins to set aside 15 percent of the team’s contribution for a new ballpark to local African-American firms was scrapped after Miami-Dade County and city of Miami officials determined it would be illegal.

A court case in 1999 held such race-based set-asides was illegal under Florida law. The local officials say they’re merely upholding the law, no matter how well-intentioned the Marlins were in making the pledge. If the new ballpark had been approved with such a provision in place, it surely would have been subjected to litigation.

The Marlins had argued such a deal was legal because it was between a private enterprise — the Marlins — and the African-American community. But that distinction is on shaky legal grounds with government entities putting up the majority of financing for the $638-million facility.

The decision to back off the set-asides clears the way for the Miami City Commission to debate the ballpark proposal tomorrow. The last time the commission debated the issue it failed on a 2-2 vote after Commissioner Marc Sarnoff made new financial demands on the Marlins, including a sharing of naming-rights revenues, a pledge to share in profits should the team be sold, and the Marlins covering cost overruns on a parking ramp. While Sarnoff hasn’t backed off his demands, the dynamics are different now that Michelle Spence-Jones, who missed the earlier vote because of her maternity leave, is back and has expressed tentative support for the project.

If the city approves the project, it then goes to the Miami-Dade County Commission next week. Insiders had always assumed the county would be the harder sell — the city is on the hook for only $13 million in total spending on the project aside from a $93 million parking ramp — and passage by the county is still not a sure deal.

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