How the power that be in Miami operates

The Miami Herald seems to oppose the building of a stadium which would ensure MLB remains in Miami. I write that because of the one-sidedness of their reporting. Here is how I see the Herald wielding its influence:

Wednesday, Feb 11– Michael Putney Op-ed piece – A stadium we can’t afford

  • Putney argues that the real cost of the stadium should include the compounded interest on the initial debt incurred. Which is fine, if you make that point consistently. For example, on the front page, the Herald reported on the $838 Billion stimulus plan which it then endorsed on its Op-Ed page, with no mention of ‘real’ costs. Would anyone argue that the ‘real costs’ will exceed $2 Trillion? Will the Herald be revising all stated government costs to approximate real costs?
  • I wish I remembered Mr Putney’s positions on the Carnival/Arsht Center, but accountability and sunshine laws do not extend to the powers that be. They are nowhere to be found on the web.
  • Putney notes the excellent analysis–against the stadium plan, naturally–done by Miami Today’s Michael Lewis. The one time I took a close look at Mr Lewis’ figures, I discovered sloppy if not intentionally misleading financial reporting. You be the judge, click here.
  • A major portion of the stimulus plan involves transferring monies back to the states for their spending on, among many other things, infrastructure projects. If you are a stadium opponent–which is encompassed by the Megaplan–and stimulus plan supporter, intellectual honesty would force you to acknowledge the contradiction.

Wednesday, Feb 11Article Headline – Mayor Carlos Alvarez’s State of Dade speech hypes stadium

  • Note the use of the word ‘hype’ in the headline. Subtlety can not be risked in the final week.

Wednesday, Feb 11– Total Florida Marlins stadium debt is unclear

  • Here’s what Neil deMause, a critic of publicly funded stadiums, says about the Hearld’s reporting

    “It’s not quite a fair assessment – the Herald counts money deferred for 20 years the same as money due tomorrow, for starters, which skews its figures.”

  • This is the article which Putney based his Op-Ed piece on. Again re consistency, Treasury Secretary Geithner excluded many details from TARP II, which many have criticized, but not the Miami Herald.

Tuesday, Feb 10– Marlins stadium, symphony hall vie for Dade bed-tax dollars

  • A little divisiveness can’t hurt. Clarion call to the Arts crowd to protect their turf.

Sunday, Feb 8– Ballpark design a hit; shops, garages less so

  • The most egregious slam job. The Herald even provides links to bloggers critical of the stadium, in case they weren’t negative enough in their full page spread. [Full disclosure, that’s not something I normally criticize.]
  • In an article ostensibly about the design of the new stadium, the Herald takes the space to note that the cities of San Diego and St Louis had ‘extracted far more extensive redevelopment commitments’ than Miami had for the Marlins. The conditions between the 3 cities could not be more different.
  • The St Louis team is owned by a company [Anheuser-Busch] with roots in the community dating back to the 19th century as a corporate headquarters and the city’s largest employer. In what possible manner is St Louis a reasonable comparison to Miami?
  • The San Diego stadium [Petco] was built in the most appealing piece of real estate in the city during a condo boom. The comparison would have been less egregious if the Marlins had been submitting a design for a stadium in the former Bicentennial Park location. By the way, one of the bloggers promoted in the article–Field of Schemes–notes that the San Diego team ownership’s contribution of $173 million should be considered net of a $60 million naming rights deal. For those keeping score, that means the Marlins are contributing more than the San Diego ownership did to the construction of a stadium.
  • All this while ignoring a key fact during all of their recent reporting; The Marlins are responsible for any cost overruns. If that were not the case, that would be argument #1 for not entering into this agreement for local governments.
  • Where was the comparison to Pittsburgh? A city which recently built a stadium and has similar demographics to Miami. Was the comparison too favorable to risk disclosing?

Sunday, Feb 1– Tax revenue for Florida Marlins stadium falling short?

  • Tax revenues will decrease during a recession. Video at 11.

No word yet on the exact number of widows and orphans to be interviewed–scheduled to run on Thursday–about something positive in their lives the stadium will prevent.

All articles referenced are copied in full at end of post. This way there is a record of what appears in the Herald, given that no one, and I mean no one, pays for their archive services. But I don’t need to remind McClatchy stockholders of that.

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Total Florida Marlins stadium debt is unclear

Posted on Wed, Feb. 11, 2009

BY DOUGLAS HANKS

Days before the final votes on a $515 million ballpark, Miami-Dade’s top stadium expense remains a mystery: how much it will cost to pay back the construction debt.

County Manager George Burgess said Tuesday his staff may not release a repayment plan on $347 million in ballpark bonds until Miami-Dade commissioners meet Friday.

Without those details, it’s almost impossible to estimate the strain a new Florida Marlins stadium might place on Miami-Dade’s budget or how much the ballpark ultimately would cost the county.

Miami-Dade would borrow $50 million for the stadium from a previous bond referendum and pledge $297 million in debt to future hotel taxes. The rest would come from the Marlins, with $13 million from Miami.

Using past Miami-Dade bond sales as a guide, the pace of paying back hotel bonds for the stadium could swing borrowing costs from as low as $528 million to more than $1.1 billion, according to Miami Herald calculations.

Top county administrators have already said hotel taxes do not generate enough revenue to fund the bulk of the stadium debt. They plan to delay paying down the $297 million in hotel-tax bonds until later years, when history suggests tourism will emerge from its current decline and generate record revenue.

”We’re looking at making long-term investments with long-term financing and long-term revenue streams,” Burgess said this week.

The county’s annual report to bond holders offers a lesson in how repayment schedules can have more impact on borrowing costs than the original debt itself:

• In 1998, Miami-Dade pledged future hotel taxes to $95 million worth of bonds for athletic facilities across the county, including the Key Biscayne tennis complex.

The county set up a steady payment plan, reducing the principal each year and keeping annual interest expenses below $6 million. The total cost of the debt is listed at $169 million. That 178 percent increase would translate into a $528 million tab for the stadium’s hotel bonds.

• A year earlier, Miami-Dade borrowed $170 million for Miami’s new performing arts center and two suburban theaters by selling bonds pegged to hotel taxes.

The bonds only cost Miami-Dade $5.8 million a year in interest payments through 2028. After that, the annual interest expense spikes to as high as $55 million. Unless it’s repaid early, the total cost on the $170 million debt will be $651 million.

Should the borrowing costs of the stadium debt follow a similar arc — increasing 383 percent from the original amount — the hotel-tax bonds on the ballpark would cost $1.1 billion to pay back.

”It’s not like a regular mortgage where you have principal and interest,” said Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, a stadium critic. “I don’t think it’s responsible.”

The Burgess plan relies on hotel taxes growing enough in later years to compensate for a sharp decline now.

This decade saw hotel taxes grow an average of 6 percent, despite steep declines after the 2001 attacks and double-digit improvement during the recovery. They’re now falling by the same amount.

The stakes are high, since a shortfall would cause havoc with the $94 million in county expenses funded by hotel taxes this year. Museums receive about $4 million, roughly $10 million goes to the Greater Miami tourism bureau and downtown Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center gets almost $8 million a year.

Bond holders have first claim on those dollars should hotel taxes fall drastically short. If hotel taxes cannot cover debt payments, bond holders also can dip into the county’s sales-tax revenue — money that goes into the county’s general budget.

County officials said stadium bond holders will also have a claim to dollars from the county general budget.

That’s a worst-case scenario Miami-Dade has never faced — despite past pressure on hotel taxes caused by foreign tourist murders, Hurricane Andrew and 9/11.

Stadium backers see past recoveries as a reason not to let the current economic crisis derail the plan. ”We know from our history that we are resilient,” Mayor Carlos Alvarez said during his State of the County speech Tuesday. “We have faced worse and have rebounded.”
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Mayor Carlos Alvarez’s State of Dade speech hypes stadium

Posted on Wed, Feb. 11, 2009

BY CHARLES RABIN

A battered economy and a historic upcoming baseball stadium vote dominated Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez’s annual State of the County address Tuesday.

Alvarez described ”the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression” and said the bleak economy is a key reason the public, and the County Commission, should back a deal to spend hundreds of millions of public dollars to build a new stadium for the Florida Marlins.

The mayor’s 37-minute speech, at the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater, touched upon other issues as well: closing a large gap in the county’s budget, the revival of a plan to build a $1 billion tunnel to the Port of Miami and the importance of the world’s largest ongoing airport construction job.

But Alvarez spoke most assertively of keeping the Marlins in South Florida, a promise that has been a cornerstone of his administration since he took office in 2004.

”Commissioners, I humbly ask for your vote,” Alvarez said during his speech.

JOBS ENGINE

He said the public works project will become an economic engine at a time the region needs it most.

”Now is the time people need jobs. It’s so frustrating to hear people say this is not the time to do it,” the mayor said at a press conference immediately following his speech.

Critics, including a group calling itself the Coalition Against the Marlins Bailout Deal, argue that the county is getting a raw deal by putting in so much money.

”This is the worst deal I’ve seen in 35 years,” said vocal opponent Frank Del Vecchio, whose group held a brief rally outside the Miami Beach auditorium. “This project will have cost overruns. The only way to complete construction and operate it will be for public funds to be continually put into it.”

Friday, Miami and Miami-Dade commissioners will vote on five contracts that — if approved — would cement a deal in which the county would come up with about $350 million of the $515 million ballpark eyed for Little Havana.

The Marlins would spend $120 million on construction and repay the county a $35 million loan through yearly rent payments.

The city of Miami would pay for and build the parking structures.

The primary public contribution would come from a tax charged to hotel patrons that, as it now stands, would not provide enough money to cover all debt costs on a standard loan.

DEAL BETS ON TOURISM

Instead, government leaders and the team are banking on record tourism returning to South Florida after the economy rebounds.

A new stadium for the Marlins, to be built where the Orange Bowl once stood and open in 2012, is as close to being a done deal as it ever has been.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, like the owner before him, says he’s hamstrung by the lack of concession, parking and advertising money he receives from his Dolphin Stadium lease agreement.

The mayor addressed another public works project that has also faced hurdles: the massive port tunnel project needing resuscitation after the state backed out late last year. Alvarez and others have pressed Gov. Charlie Crist to re-fund the project.

”Governor, if you are listening, this is the right project, right now, and we are depending on you,” said Alvarez, adding that Crist “assured me that it’s not dead.”

The mayor said the county has cut 1,300 jobs in the past year through retirement or attrition, helping cover a $400 million shortfall.

On the flip side, he cited Miami International Airport’s $5 billion renovation and announced a new initiative stressing volunteerism in public works.

Miami Herald staff writer Jack Dolan contributed to this report.
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Marlins stadium, symphony hall vie for Dade bed-tax dollars

Posted on Tue, Feb. 10, 2009

BY DOUGLAS HANKS

In calculating how to finance half of a $609 million baseball stadium with hotel taxes, Miami-Dade County is not reserving money for the New World Symphony’s expanded home in Miami Beach, county officials said.

Although only a planning decision, the omission calls into question a $27 million infusion of hotel taxes the symphony is counting on to pay for the $140 million high-tech concert hall under construction off Lincoln Road.

”The money is needed to complete this project and do it properly,” said Neisen Kasdin, a former Miami Beach mayor and chairman of the symphony’s board.

County Manager George Burgess said the budget forecasts involved in the stadium plan are unrelated to the symphony’s funding request. He said it would be a mistake to connect the two.

”You’re pitting projects against each other that shouldn’t be pitted against each other,” he said. “Nobody’s made a decision not to do New World.”

With a final commission vote on the stadium plan set for Friday, Burgess’ staff faces pressure to show hotels will produce enough taxes to fund current expenses as well as $297 million in new debt for the ballpark.

Last week, Miami Beach’s mayor urged Miami-Dade to pledge hotel taxes to the city’s convention center before funding the new home for the Florida Marlins. Miami-Dade’s tourism bureau recently cut salaries to absorb an 8 percent decline in the hotel taxes that fund a large chunk of its budget.

As construction workers secure the steel girders that make up the skeleton for the complex designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, the New World Symphony is awaiting county dollars tentatively pledged to the project last spring.

In May, commissioners unanimously approved a motion instructing Burgess to negotiate a deal that would hand the symphony $27 million from a countywide hotel tax. The agreement requires a second commission vote, but Burgess has not presented a final deal with the symphony.

Michael Spring, director of the county’s Cultural Affairs office, said his department was assigned the task of working out the details with the symphony. He said an agreement was reached and he is waiting for Burgess to bring the matter back to the commission.

The economic crisis and declining tourism are combining to make the $609 million stadium financing plan even more complicated than it would be otherwise.

Miami-Dade would borrow $297 million against future hotel taxes, debt that would average out to at least $20 million in annual payments over 35 years.

Using last year’s $74 million revenue figure, stadium debt would take up about one of every four tax dollars hotels generate.

But hotel taxes are dropping, down 6 percent since September. The sharp decline — the first since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks — has organizations that depend on hotel taxes worried about their budgets.

”We, like everyone else, are not sure what the future is going to hold,” said Aaron Podhurst, board chairman of the Miami Art Museum, which will receive $1.7 million in hotel taxes this year. “If we have to raise more [from donors] for operating expenses, we will.”

Jennifer Glazer-Moon, head of Miami-Dade’s Strategic Business Management office, said she included current hotel-tax spending — including museum subsidies — as she mapped out the county’s ability to take on stadium debt.

The forecast does not contemplate new dollars for the symphony hall, she said.

Burgess said Miami-Dade might fund New World with other revenues besides hotel taxes.

Or the county could rely on hotel taxes growing to pay for the building.

”While we don’t have New World listed as an obligation [in the ballpark plan], that doesn’t mean it’s not on our radar screen in terms of possible future use for excess hotel taxes,” he said.
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Ballpark design a hit; shops, garages less so

Posted on Sat, Feb. 07, 2009

BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI

Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, a modern-art dealer, wanted a sculpture for his team’s proposed new stadium, and he got one. Instead of the retro ballparks built recently across the country, his architects delivered an avant-bowl of concrete, glass and metal topped off with a sliding roof — a structure perhaps as dashing and au courant as Miami itself.

That, or a flying saucer crash-landed in Little Havana. ”A futuristic bidet?” one New York journalist cracked on his blog.

Love it or hate it, Loria and his architects at HOK, the firm that has virtually monopolized major-league stadium design, delivered a distinct vision for the Marlins’ ballpark in the city.

The same can’t be said when it comes to everything else around the stadium — the critical city blueprint that will determine how well the new ballpark does by the long-suffering neighborhood around it.

DEVELOPMENT

Central to the Marlins’ and public officials’ pitch to taxpayers was a promise that, in exchange for $450 million in public subsidies, the $609 million stadium project would propel redevelopment in the surrounding area, luring commerce, jobs, amenities and foot traffic to an area that sorely lacks them.

But the stadium site plan released this month suggests that the city of Miami’s approach might best be summed up as “build it and hope.”

The main feature of the plan, aside from the stadium itself, comprises four massive parking garages flanking the ballpark — the sum total of the city’s economic development scheme to date.

The garages would contain ground-floor space for unspecified shops and restaurants that city officials hope will attract crowds to the neighborhood on a daily basis, and not just at game time. The plans also include up to 96 row-house-style apartments attached to the two southernmost garages.

The five-level garages are also designed in part to buffer the surrounding neighborhood of modest three- and four-story apartment buildings from the colossal stadium, whose height will soar to the equivalent of a 20-story building, or about 10 stories taller than the Orange Bowl it would replace.

The city doesn’t yet know who will build the garages or the housing, however. Nor does it know exactly how much they will cost. But officials say they are committed to the plan, which they characterize as a start to drawing in the kind of economic activity that would benefit Little Havana residents.

DEADLINES BLAMED

City officials say they were constrained from developing a wider-ranging plan by deadlines imposed by the Marlins’ need to leave Dolphin Stadium, where their lease expires in 2010. Under a 300-page contract with the team and Miami-Dade County, the city controls redevelopment on the stadium site, the former home of the demolished Orange Bowl.

Some other U.S. cities with new major-league stadiums, including San Diego and St. Louis, extracted far more extensive redevelopment commitments — including substantial investment and plans for new urban districts — from team owners in return for public subsidies.

”Our design steps away from that old paradigm of the old Joe Robbie Stadium in the middle of nowhere, with 20,000 flat parking spaces around it,” said Miami’s chief financial officer, Larry Spring. “That generates no economic development.

“What we have is a baby version of the other end of the spectrum. We were mindful enough to know we need businesses there 365 days. But there is no fully vetted-out development plan. Time was not on our side.”

The city hopes the stadium will eventually attract further commercial development, perhaps including a hotel, to several city-owned parcels on the site’s eastern and western flanks that will be left undeveloped for now. Those lots will be occupied temporarily by surface parking and an existing recreational ball field.

But critics of the plan see myriad missed opportunities. Many fear that the stadium will become another sports venue that fans largely evacuate after a game, like the old Miami Arena or the current AmericanAirlines Arena, both of which failed to spur promised redevelopment.

By giving over most of the 42-acre Orange Bowl site to the Marlins stadium and multistory garages, some say, the city has sharply reduced the options for a broader mix of development — such as retail, offices and housing — with sufficient economic oomph to revitalize the larger neighborhood around it.

WHEN BALLPARK IS IDLE

The commercial space available under the city’s plan is unlikely to draw enough customers on nongame days to make a significant impact, said Tony Garcia, an architect and urban designer who criticized the scheme on the Transit Miami urban policy blog (wwwtransitmiami.com).

”Why are people going to come to this area? What’s going to make it a destination, and not just for baseball games?” Garcia said. “You need a better mix of uses here, not just parking garages.”

By contrast, St. Louis taxpayers who provided no more than a $45 million loan for the Cardinals’ new baseball stadium got far more for their pains: a $600 million plan from the team, in partnership with a large private developer, to transform an adjacent rundown area into an urban district of stores, apartments and offices called Ballpark Village.

In San Diego, the city required the Padres to do $300 million worth of private redevelopment in the East Village neighborhood next to their taxpayer-funded stadium, completed in 2004. That amount has been far exceeded, reaching $1.5 billion in new hotels, offices, condos and apartments around the stadium by 2007, and utterly transforming what had been a derelict zone.

Even in Washington, D.C., where taxpayers covered almost the entire cost of a home for the Nationals, the stadium fits into a larger city plan to revitalize the surrounding Anacostia area.

As a result, plans for those stadiums included far more elaborate schemes than Miami’s for the sites and adjacent urban districts, blending the ballparks more seamlessly with surrounding blocks of hotels, office towers, homes, shops and restaurants.

Parking in those plans is mostly integrated into the commercial structures instead of standing alone.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Academics and activists have long contended that baseball stadiums, absent a larger redevelopment strategy as in San Diego, do little for their surroundings. One longtime critic of public subsidies to ballparks who has analyzed the Marlins stadium plan says it’s unlikely to prove much different in Little Havana.

”I certainly don’t think the city or the county have learned anything. The question is, what do the residents need? If they need supermarkets, that’s hard for a stadium to accomplish,” said Neil deMause, a journalist who mocked the Marlins stadium design on his blog site, fieldofschemes.com, named after a book he co-authored that is critical of such public subsidies.

”Stadiums in particular are lousy anchors. They’re dark much of the year, and no one is going to open a restaurant for customers who are only there 81 days a year,” he said, referring to the number of home games in a baseball season. “And then if you are not catering to the fans, you have to deal with traffic jams on game days, so it’s really hard to capture customers.”

POSITIVE BLEND

Given the constraints the city faced on the Marlins stadium site, however, urban designers and architects at the University of Miami say the team’s and the city’s architects and planners have done a creditable job in physically blending ballpark and neighborhood — although there is room for improvement.

”It’s so similar to the Orange Bowl organization — a stadium surrounded by parking, only it’s in garages instead of surface lots,” said UM architecture professor Jean-Francois Lejeune, who analyzed the renderings with colleague Allan Shulman at The Miami Herald’s request.

One potential jewel they identified: a broad public plaza at the western end of the proposed stadium that would be shaded by the massive roof when the ballpark is open.

With some tweaking — adding a multistory cafe and residences on its edge, for instance — the plaza could become a signature gathering space, Lejeune said. That could be done by shrinking the footprint of one of the parking garages to make room for more commercial and residential space.

”It would be a space unlike any other in Miami, and much better than anything Little Havana has ever seen,” Lejeune said.

But the garages, in spite of efforts to add architectural pop with exposed staircases jutting from the corners, may be too monotonous, Lejeune said.

”They are four stories everywhere, and flat,” he said. “There is nothing interesting. Why not make a tower or something?”

City planners say the size and shape of the garages were dictated largely by the Marlins’ need for 6,000 spaces and quick exit times.

The planners and their consultant, Rolando Llanes of Civitas, say the garages, which are more traditional in style than the stadium, will serve as a buffer or ”transition” between the stadium and the modest dwellings around it.

City planners asked Civitas to dress up the garages, breaking up their mass with relief patterns while ensuring that cars, lighting and other unattractive building fixtures are not glaringly visible to pedestrians, planning records show.

The garage fronts that face Northwest Seventh Street, a major corridor, will be lined with retail spaces to serve the neighborhood. Where they face the stadium, the garages will have space for shops and restaurants.

Because the initial stadium designs had blank walls rising starkly from the ground, planners also had HOK add glass and openings, as well as a granite base and better architectural detailing at the pedestrian level, said Dakota Hendon, who coordinates the city’s design reviews of major projects. Colored glass along the stadium’s exterior at ground level will be designed by local artists.

The goal is an attractive and pedestrian-friendly architecture that would fill spaces around the garages and the stadium with people and activity, he said.

”We didn’t want the stadium rising out of the ground like a saucer,” Hendon said. “We wanted to minimize blank walls and open up vistas, so that as you walk around the stadium, you will find interesting things to look at.”

APPROVALS PENDING

The stadium design and site plan, which were endorsed this month by the city’s Urban Design Review Board, will ultimately go to the city’s Planning Advisory Board and the City Commission for approval and public hearings.

Loria declined to be interviewed, but in a brief written statement said he had been thinking about the stadium ”for years,” and he called the results “glorious, magical and unique.”

”It will be Miami’s coolest place in town,” he said.
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Tax revenue for Florida Marlins stadium falling short?

Posted on Sun, Feb. 01, 2009

BY DOUGLAS HANKS, JACK DOLAN AND CHARLES RABIN

Tourists would need to spend record amounts of money at Miami-Dade County hotels to pay the debt on a proposed baseball stadium in Little Havana, according to a Miami Herald analysis.

Even before the autumn economic tailspin, the analysis found, hotels were not generating enough revenue to cover payments on $297 million in stadium debt that Miami-Dade wants pegged to hotel taxes.

That leaves Miami-Dade administrators counting on continued growth in the hotel industry even as South Florida suffers its worst tourism decline since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Hotel taxes — also known as ”bed taxes” — would fund nearly half of the construction tab for the new $609 million home for the Florida Marlins. As administrators finish their financing plan for the stadium, they are grappling with a complicated question made more complex by the current tourism slide: How much more debt can hotel taxes sustain?

To answer that question, The Miami Herald mapped future debt payment scenarios on the proposed stadium and parking garage.

The analysis combined county budget figures and annual borrowing costs of about $20 million for a generic $297 million bond. It found that without a quick turnaround in tourism, it would be 2017 before Miami-Dade’s hotel taxes could sustain the stadium’s debt.

Jennifer Glazer-Moon, director of the county’s Strategic Business Management office, confirmed that initially, there probably would not be enough bed taxes to cover debt on the 37,000-seat stadium.

As in the past, Miami-Dade would structure the bonds to allow smaller payments upfront and then larger payouts in future years when hotel taxes are likely to be higher.

”Our economy is a resilient economy,” said County Commission Chairman Dennis Moss, a stadium supporter. “You’ll see the bed tax start to grow.”

Should hotel taxes stay flat through 2010, Miami-Dade would need an extra $38 million to cover bond payments by the end of 2016, the analysis shows. Under the county’s more bullish budget forecasts, the cumulative deficit would be only $6 million.

OUTLOOK FOR TOURISM

Some industry experts predict a far grimmer tourism landscape in the short term than what the county foresees.

Citing an 8 percent increase in hotel rooms and popular one-time events like January’s college football championship, Miami-Dade’s budget office predicts that hotel taxes will set another record this year, growing by 2.4 percent to $75.1 million.

But PKF Hospitality Research in Atlanta forecast a 6.9 percent decline in hotel revenue for this year, Miami-Dade’s worst showing in seven years. With hotels cutting rates, corporations slashing meeting plans and vacationers wary of spending, the consulting firm said Miami-Dade would have a hard time posting gains.

”I think most hoteliers in Miami, and around the country, would laugh at the thought of an increase in hotel tax collections in 2009,” PKF research director Robert Mandelbaum wrote in an e-mail.

Since the county has not completed a financing plan, elements in The Miami Herald’s analysis could change before the scheduled Feb. 13 vote on the stadium deal by Miami and Miami-Dade commissioners.

For example, the county has $25 million in surplus hotel-tax revenue that it could use to pay down construction costs, saving about $2 million a year in debt service, Glazer-Moon said.

But Larry Spring, Miami’s chief financial officer, said the city expects its yearly bed-tax payment from the county to rise to $6 million, from $2 million, under the stadium agreement being negotiated between the two governments. That would reduce the amount available for Miami-Dade’s bond payments.

George Burgess, Miami-Dade’s county manager, dismissed the notion of the current economic crisis causing lasting damage to the tourism industry. He pointed to the years that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when hotel taxes dropped by 6 percent in 2002 and then surged to a record by the end of 2004.

”Our belief is the slowdown will last two or three years and then rebound,” he said. “Is it reasonable that we’ll be flat-lining for six or seven years? It is not.”

Between 2000 and 2007, the average growth for hotel taxes hit 6 percent a year despite the terrorist attacks, active hurricane seasons and a battered housing market. Current county forecasts cap hotel-tax revenue growth at 4 percent.

NO CRYSTAL BALL

”We shouldn’t be judging a 20- to 30-year financing plan based solely on current market conditions. There will be highs and lows,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said in a statement Friday. “Our bed tax growth estimates, once complete, will be conservative as they have been in the past.”

But those questioning the stadium plan warned against putting too much faith in optimistic projections in the current economic climate.

County Commissioner Katy Sorenson said it is ”just stunning” that the county administration would be willing to move forward if hotel taxes are not high enough to cover the debt in the early years. ”The public strikes out with this deal,” she said. “I think it’s all going to unravel in July.”

If commissioners in Miami and Miami-Dade approve the plan, either government would have until June 30 to cancel the deal. ”If we are presented with a worst-case scenario by June 30, we can walk away,” Mayor Alvarez said in his statement.

The Miami Herald analysis assumed that Miami-Dade would sell 35-year bonds at a 6 percent interest rate, the return administrators said they expect Wall Street to accept during the current credit crisis. That amounts to a yearly bond payment of about $20 million, assuming equal installments for 35 years.

That figure was added to core expenses already covered by Miami-Dade’s 6 percent tax on hotel-room rent: existing obligations, including debt payments that range from $20 million to $67 million a year; $7.5 million for the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center; and about $11 million in tourism promotion.

The analysis left out a number of current hotel-tax recipients, such as the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. County commissioners also could opt to reduce funding to the Arsht Center or tourism efforts should hotel taxes fall short.

How hotels perform in the coming months will be crucial to whether the Florida Marlins move to Miami, since cratering tax receipts likely would signal a hotel market too shaky to support the debt.

”In the environment we’re in now, we’re looking at it on a month-to-month basis,” said John Incorvaia, a Moody’s debt analyst who focuses on Florida. While worsening declines would signal long-term trouble, “it tells us a little bit different story if they’re down for a few months but the rate of decrease isn’t down as much. . . . Maybe that’s a sign of stabilization to come.”

Hotel-tax revenue began to drop in the fall, after a strong summer boosted by foreign visitors. The revenue dipped by 2 percent in September and October, the first consecutive monthly decline since September 2002.

November brought more bad news, with tax revenue down by 9 percent. And despite the December reopening of the Fontainebleau, Miami-Dade’s largest resort, revenue dropped by 8 percent that month.

But even if hotel taxes fall short in early years, county officials say they are confident of the tourism destination’s long-term prospects.

Reducing early loan payments to make larger ones later would increase Miami-Dade’s borrowing costs by millions of dollars.

In 1997, needing money for the future Arsht center and some smaller projects, Miami-Dade borrowed $170 million by promising future hotel taxes to pay off the debt. The repayment schedule has Miami-Dade making only $5.8 million of interest payments on the loan through 2028.

The next year, Miami-Dade would owe $4.5 million in principal and $23 million in interest. In all, the $170 million loan would cost Miami-Dade $651 million through 2038, according to county bond documents.

FINDING A BALANCE

Glazer-Moon said the approach allows the county to consider current needs while taking advantage of the near certainty of future tax growth.

”If you size it in such a way that I’m going to make the payment that I can afford to make this year forever, then you’re basically not optimizing the use of that revenue,” she said. “Because there’s all of this money coming in [during later years] that you’re not taking advantage of.”

The stadium has been controversial not just for the large price tag, but for the priority given to the ballpark over a pet project for the tourism industry: improving the Miami Beach Convention Center.

A $75 million expansion and renovation of the facility has stalled over cost concerns, and hotel advocates want Miami-Dade to spend money on the convention center first.

”The bottom line is very simple: The economic engine that generates that [hotel] tax has been allowed to decay over a period of 20 years,” said Stuart Blumberg, president of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association, which also receives hotel taxes. “Which means there will be less bed taxes generated from that engine.”

County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez said he supports spending hotel taxes on the convention center instead of the stadium. He opposes the idea of taking on debt that current revenues won’t support.

”You’re mortgaging the future,” he said. “You are also stripping any future commission from the ability to do projects. It’s troublesome.”
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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
This entry was posted in Marlins Ballpark & Finances and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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