Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria recently claimed that tourists, not Miami-Dade taxpayers, shouldered much of the financial burden for the construction of Marlins Park.
Politifact, a partnership between the Tampa Bay Times and The Miami Herald, investigated Loria's claim, and ruled Saturday that it is only half true.
In an open letter to Marlins fans published in three local newspapers last month, Loria wrote that public money used to partially finance stadium construction came from hotel taxes, "the burden of which is incurred by tourists who are visiting our city, NOT the resident taxpayers."
"Those who have attacked us are entitled to their own opinions," Loria added in a defiant tone.
Construction of Marlins Park cost $515 million, with adjacent parking garages upping the total cost to above $600 million, according to the Herald. Loria and the Marlins paid $120 million of the construction costs, and borrowed $35 million from the county on top of the $120 million. The team also pays rent to the county of $2.3 million per year (with an additional 2 percent each successive year) and pays rent on parking spaces in the stadium garages.
Almost $300 million of the construction costs came from three different hotel bed taxes. Politifact points out that these taxes cannot be used towards general government expenses like social services, public safety and public education.
But, Politifact points out, just because those funds come from hotel bed taxes does not mean that local residents have not contributed. "While tourists pay bed taxes, so does anyone else who stays in a hotel or motel for any reason," Politifact wrote. "That includes business people visiting the area, friends and family who visit local residents, and locals who live in hotels or need a room for the night."
More importantly, Loria's stadium claim ignored the fact that the bed tax money "could have been spent on other projects to benefit local taxpayers." There is an opportunity cost to any project, including an expensive baseball stadium that lies dormant for over 200 days a year.
"He cherry-picked a fact that puts the situation in the best light while omitting a thorough explanation," Politifact added. Loria totally ignored the cost of financing the project.
Interest on bonds authorized for Marlins Park is piling up, and Miami-Dade County will have to make huge payments in coming years. The Herald reported in January that the interest on one $91 million bond alone will cost the county more than $1 billion over the next 30-plus years.
"His implication that locals can shrug their shoulders at that public cost, and dismiss it as coming from the wallets of out-of-town tourists, is disingenuous," Politifact concluded, giving his claims a "Half True" rating.
But it is too late for the county to do much of anything about Loria. Large swaths of Marlins fans have already abandoned the team thanks to its payroll-reducing fire sale last winter, and the team has said its season-ticket sales have fallen by more than half in 2013.
Loria will feel the pain from the fans' defections, but the team can still turn a profit this season thanks in large part to Major League Baseball's revenue-sharing program and national television contract money.