Judge rules new Marlins ballpark would serve public purpose

MIAMI -- The Florida Marlins cleared a major hurdle in their bid to get a new stadium Tuesday when a judge ruled the proposed tax-supported facility would serve a public purpose, giving her no right to overturn the decision of the elected officials who approved it.

In her 41-page ruling, Circuit Court Judge Jeri Beth Cohen wrote there were no grounds to overturn the judgment of the Miami-Dade County Commission. One issue is left for Cohen to resolve, but the Marlins and the county think it does not affect the stadium plans.

"It is unfortunate that so much time and so much of the public's money has been wasted in this legal process," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said in a statement. "We will proceed immediately to finalize discussions with the county and the city to put in place all the long-awaited final agreements. ... We look forward to unveiling the detailed plans for the ballpark in the very near future."

An attorney for wealthy auto dealer Norman Braman said he plans to appeal. Braman filed suit shortly after approval of the county's $3 billion "megaplan," which includes the new stadium, a major tunnel to the Port of Miami and a museums park. Braman, a philanthropist, art collector and former owner of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, has contended the project financing is unconstitutional.

"We're disappointed, but this is just one step on the long road that this case will take," said Braman's attorney, Bob Martinez. "Mr. Braman is fully committed as a matter of principle to making sure that the [state] constitution is upheld."

The Marlins would build the retractable-roof stadium on the site of the Orange Bowl in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, which has long been a target for economic revitalization.

The team has played at Dolphin Stadium since its inception in 1993 but complains the ballpark is ill-designed for baseball and that hot, rainy Florida summers require a roof. At a sweltering afternoon game last week, only 600 fans were in their seats for the first pitch.