Building begins at Orange Bowl site

MIAMI -- Florida Marlins president David Samson pulled out his cell phone, eager to show the proof that the team's long-awaited ballpark was closer than ever to becoming reality.

Snapped early Wednesday morning, Samson proudly displayed a 4-inch high, 2-inch wide photo of someone operating a heavy grading machine at the downtown Miami site where the Orange Bowl sat for more than seven decades and is now about to be transformed into the Marlins' new home.

"It already looks different," Samson said.

It's going to look a lot different during the next 33 months.

Only hours after the final arrangements were completed regarding the bonds that will help pay for the $515 million, 37,000-seat retractable-roof stadium, crews arrived Wednesday morning to begin actual work on the project.

Samson said Miami-Dade County commissioners gave final approval to the financing terms at about 1:10 a.m. ET, and less than six hours later equipment, pickups, even the lunch wagon was en route to the site.

"It's time to get this building built," Samson said. "There were workers asleep last night, ready to wake up and be on site. It's time to get this building built. It's time to get this debate over. And now it's all construction jobs and baseball."

A formal groundbreaking is scheduled for July 18. The Marlins plan to move into the new stadium in time for the 2012 season.

The Marlins have tried for years to get their own stadium, one with a retractable roof. Since their inception in 1993, they've shared a building with the Miami Dolphins, and ownership groups have long blamed the frequent threat of rain for poor ticket sales. Florida is again last in per-game attendance this season, just as it has been in each of the preceding three years.

Five attempts for state funding were thwarted, and a lawsuit delayed the current project by about a year.

"There are no hurdles," Samson said. "There's nothing left."

The bonds for the project were a thorny issue, though.

The project was planned with hopes that it would be financed in part through more than $300 million in bond sales backed by tourism taxes. The team and county learned Tuesday that there was a $6 million shortfall from the proceeds of the bond sales, which the Marlins ultimately agreed to cover and which Samson said could have been much worse given the volatility in the current bond market.

"It was a huge sigh of relief," Samson said.

Without the financing being completed, no work would have started, Samson said.

The team expects that the new ballpark will lead to a pronounced increase in attendance and revenue, and Florida's payroll typically ranks near the very bottom of the 30 major league clubs -- something Samson has said will change once the new stadium is finished. Under the terms of their current lease, the Marlins get little or nothing from sales on concessions, signage and suites at Land Shark Stadium.

Once the stadium is completed, the team will be renamed the Miami Marlins.