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Tuesday, February 6, 2007
Samson hopeful new stadium agreement coming soon

Associated Press

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Nearly three years have passed since the Florida Marlins' self-imposed deadlines for securing a new ballpark agreement all came and went without the completion of a deal.

So now, they're trying a new tact.

"I'm out of the deadline business," Marlins president David Samson said Tuesday. "I'm back in the prediction business."

And his prediction? A long-awaited deal could finally be on the horizon.

Bolstered by Gov. Charlie Crist's recent announcement that he supports using some state money for new stadiums, calling it "an economic development issue," Samson said he believes an agreement for a retractable-roof stadium in downtown Miami may be announced by October, if not earlier.

"There has been really marked progress and we certainly anticipate being able to announce a deal at some point this season," Samson said. "We're hopeful sooner rather than later. But the way things go these past 13 years with the Marlins, you never know."

Major League Baseball has been assisting the Marlins for some time with their quest. Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, has been involved in the financing negotiations. He said last month that securing a new ballpark for the Marlins was MLB's top offseason priority.

"We're just hopeful it's as soon as possible," Samson said, "because we really need it."

The Marlins, who play in Dolphin Stadium -- home of the Miami Dolphins -- have sought public money for a baseball-only home with a roof since their first season in 1993. Founding owner H. Wayne Huizenga and his successor, John Henry, sold the team in frustration after failing to reach a deal.

That frustration level still exists. The Marlins have failed five times in the last six years to secure money from the Florida Legislature, and with the projected cost of a new ballpark now somewhere around an estimated $500 million, the state money seems more vital than ever to help bridge the gap between what the team, the city and Miami-Dade County are willing to contribute.

"It's always nice that the governor has a similar view of economic development as we do," Samson said. "And when he goes public saying he believes that sports teams spur economic development, we say we agree, and we're hoping the legislature does too."

The Marlins contend that a new baseball-only stadium will create millions in new revenue streams. Florida had a payroll of about $15 million last season, by far the lowest in the game, and finished last in attendance.

Still, a team composed primarily of rookies managed to stay in the NL wild-card picture until the season's final week.

"All of us, we love it down here," Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla said. "We love South Florida. We'd love to play here for as long as we can and if they had a stadium it'd be easier for the fans to get excited about baseball. When you have your own home, it makes a big difference."

Uggla said the existing stadium and its playing surface is fine for baseball, other than some issues with the lighting, which is designed for football. But he also said the facility isn't ideal for baseball fans, and he believes that's the reason why the Marlins typically play home games before a largely empty ballpark.

"We'd love our own stadium and I'm sure the Dolphins would love to get us out of their stadium," Uggla said. "Time will tell, I guess."