Marlins achieve 'agreement in principle' for funding

MIAMI -- The Florida Marlins reached an agreement in principle with the city and Miami-Dade County on a plan for a $420 million ballpark adjacent to the Orange Bowl, but the deal still needs $60 million from the state.

The agreement awaits anticipated approval later this month by city and county commissioners. That would leave the Florida Legislature as the final hurdle.

"This will be the first time the Marlins, the county and the city have had a deal to present to Tallahassee," team president David Samson said Friday. "We're confident and hopeful that the state will agree with the county and city that the Marlins and South Florida are used in the same sentence forever and ever."

The state has rejected two previous proposals by the Marlins for a new ballpark.

Gov. Jeb Bush said the team will get a "fair hearing" in Tallahassee, but he was noncommittal on whether state money should be used to help finance a ballpark.

"We're going to keep an open mind on that," Bush said. "The Legislature, if they approve it, I'll look at it. Last year, I did support the financing because I really think it's important to keep the Marlins in South Florida. But we need to really look at the financing plan, make sure it's serious and solid, that the owner is putting up serious money."

The Marlins have said they're willing to spend $192 million on a 38,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof. The city and county agreed to contribute, but a $30 million funding gap remains.

The team will ask the Legislature for a $60 million sales tax rebate over 30 years, which would allow the team to borrow $30 million for financing the project. Samson said the team is close to securing bill sponsors in the House and Senate.

The Marlins' lease at Dolphins Stadium will expire following the 2010 season, and owner H. Wayne Huizenga has said it won't be extended. Marlins executives traveled to Las Vegas in December to talk with officials about a possible move there.

Miami and Miami-Dade County reached their agreement with the Marlins after the team agreed to a lien on the franchise if it fails to cover cost overruns for the ballpark.

City and county officials didn't return calls seeking comment Friday.