Senate sends Marlins ballpark measure to floor vote

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The Florida Senate approved an amendment late Wednesday that put the Florida Marlins back in the game for a new ballpark at a site in northwest Miami-Dade County.

The amendment was approved by a voice vote that sets up a floor vote, possibly as early as Thursday. The vote could certify the baseball team as Florida's ninth professional sports franchise eligible for a $60 million subsidy over a 30-year period.

Marlins president David Samson, in Washington to watch the club against the Nationals, was elated at the development.

"I got a call today telling me the amendment passed," Samson said Wednesday evening. "It was a good phone call to get."

Samson and Marlins executives and players have lobbied lawmakers for several years to qualify the state's assistance, but they were hurt by the fact that Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga, who formerly owned the Marlins, had already received one of the awards after initially bringing the baseball team to South Florida.

The Marlins have also been wooed strongly in recent weeks by Bexar County officials who want the team to move to San Antonio if they are unable to come up with an acceptable package for a new ballpark in South Florida.

Three Miami-area Republican senators, Rudy Garcia, Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Alex Villalobos, engineered the surprising late-afternoon development that came after the Senate formally extended past a 7 p.m. deadline.

The project ballpark would be located in the Miami suburb of Hialeah, about a 20-minute drive from downtown Miami and a short distance from its existing field at Dolphin Stadium, built by the late Joe Robbie near the Broward County line.

"[The] Northwest Dade area part of town will bring folks from Palm Beach and Broward and all parts of South Florida as well," Garcia said.

Hialeah's mayor, Julio Robaina, applauded the work of the Miami lawmakers.

"We are all working for one goal and that is to keep the Marlins here in South Florida and a new home in Hialeah," Robaina said.

However, the Marlins' fate remains in question in the Senate, where president Tom Lee is opposed to state subsidizing pro sports franchises.

"We'll see when the board lights up," said Lee, predicting the measure would fail on a floor vote.

However, the incoming House Speaker, Miami Republican Marco Rubio, has also been a strong backer of getting the Marlins a stadium subsidy.

If it passes both chambers the bill would go to Gov. Jeb Bush, who has also been lukewarm to the concept of helping multimillion-dollar sports franchises with taxpayer dollars. Bush, however, leaves office in eight months and plans to return to Miami to live.

The Marlins provision was put on a bill that certifies the NBA's Orlando Magic for the eighth slot to receive the subsidy.