Marlins' ballpark opening delayed to 2012

MIAMI -- The Florida Marlins' new ballpark won't open until the 2012 season, a one-year delay because a recent court challenge slowed the start of construction.

Last Friday, a Miami-Dade circuit judge eliminated the final legal obstacle -- a lawsuit filed by auto dealer Norman Braman against several projects, including the 37,000-seat, retractable-roof stadium.

The Marlins, however, have yet to break ground at the site.

"The litigation pushed us back," team president David Samson said. "We met with the construction manager, and he told us the risk was not manageable to open in 2011. The cost of accelerating construction would be too high."

The Marlins still expect to meet the targeted cost of $515 million for the ballpark, Samson said. The franchise is responsible for overruns.

Since their first game in 1993, the Marlins have played at Dolphin Stadium, where their lease expires after the 2010 season. The Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes play football there, and Samson said the Marlins have talked with representatives of both teams about remaining in the stadium in 2011.

"We're confident we can get an agreement to extend the lease one year," he said.

When Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria began making plans for a new ballpark, the target opening date was 2005. Samson said the franchise is disappointed about the latest delay.

"The litigation was a waste of taxpayer money," Samson said. "It was a frivolous lawsuit. It's an extra year, but it's OK."

The new ballpark will be located on the site of the now-demolished Orange Bowl near downtown. It's a major piece of a $3 billion public works package that includes a tunnel for the Port of Miami and a downtown trolley line.

The Marlins say the ballpark will ensure higher revenue, allowing the team to spend more on players. The delay to a 2012 opening means player payroll -- perennially one of the lowest in the major leagues -- will be slower to increase, Samson said.

"We're always going to match payroll to revenue," he said.