Marlins Park is a baseball park located in Miami, Florida. It is the current home of the Miami Marlins, the city's Major League Baseball franchise. It is located on 17 acres of the former Miami Orange Bowl site in Little Havana, about 2 miles (3 km) west of Downtown. Construction was completed in March 2012, in time for the 2012 season.
The stadium is designed in a neomodern form of baseball architecture. Marlins Park was also LEED certified as the greenest MLB park in 2012. The building is the sixth MLB stadium to have a retractable roof. With a seating capacity of 37,442, it is the third-smallest stadium in Major League Baseball by official capacity, and the smallest by actual capacity.
The stadium's public-funding plan led to a protracted lawsuit, largely contributed to the ouster of several local politicians, and triggered an SEC investigation. As revelations of the team's finances and their handling of payroll (both before and after construction) seemed to contradict some of the premises on which the tax-funded-stadium deal were based, the ballpark controversy intensified. Despite questionable financing decisions by members of local government at the time, the financing of the project did not use General Fund taxes from local taxpayers and pulled from tourist funds specifically allocated for public-benefiting projects like sports facilities.
The facility hosted a second-round pool of the 2013 World Baseball Classic and will host the 2017 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The park also hosts soccer matches, fundraising galas and other events during the winter. It also hosted the newly created Miami Beach Bowl.
From the inception of the Florida Marlins in April 1993 until October 2011, the team played its home games at the facility currently named Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, known as Sun Life Stadium during the Marlins' last season there. Hard Rock Stadium is currently the home of the National Football League's Miami Dolphins as well as the Miami Hurricanes college football team. When that stadium was built in 1987, it was designed as a multi-purpose stadium built primarily for football, but its design also accommodated baseball and soccer. Dolphins founder Joe Robbie believed it was a foregone conclusion that MLB would come to South Florida, so he wanted the stadium designed to make any necessary renovations for baseball as seamless as possible.
After baseball arrived, it enjoyed some historic moments at Sun Life Stadium. That venue drew more than 3 million fans who flocked to see the expansion Marlins in the 1993 season. The team would win two World Series while at the stadium, in 1997 and 2003.
Despite such preparation and pockets of success, Sun Life Stadium was less than adequate as a baseball venue. Although its design was meant to accommodate baseball, it was primarily a football stadium. There were plenty of reminders of that purpose even in the stadium's baseball configuration. The stadium's color scheme matched that of the Dolphins. When the football season overlapped, cleat marks, as well as silhouettes of hashmarks and logos of the Dolphins or Hurricanes, were visible on the baseball diamond. The Marlins reduced capacity to 47,662 (later to 35,521), mainly to create a more intimate atmosphere for baseball. However, capacity would have likely been reduced in any event, since many of the seats in the upper deck were too far from the field to be of any use during the regular season. Even with the reduced capacity, the sight lines were less than optimal for baseball. Most seats were pointed toward the 50-yard line—where center field was located in the baseball configuration. Lights were not angled for optimum baseball visibility. Players had to walk through football tunnels to get to dugouts that were designed with low ceiling joists. Some of these embarrassing issues were showcased on national television during the two World Series held there, when capacity was expanded to over 67,000. Most notably, some areas of left and center field were not part of the football playing field, and fans sitting in the left-field upper deck couldn't see any game action in those areas except on the replay boards. These issues became even more pronounced over the years, as a wave of baseball-only parks left Sun Life Stadium as the only National League park that played host to both an MLB and an NFL team.
Additionally, Sun Life Stadium was built for games held during the fall/winter football season, not for games in the tropical summers of South Florida, which feature oppressive heat, humidity, frequent rain, and occasional tropical storms. For most of the stadium's run as a baseball venue, it was the hottest stadium in the majors, with temperatures for day games frequently reaching well above 95 °F (35 °C). The Marlins played most of their summer home games at night as a result. The lack of refuge from the uncomfortable climate and disruptive rain delays were considered a cause of chronically low attendance after that inaugural season. When the Marlins were not contending, they struggled to attract crowds larger than 5,000—a figure that looked even smaller than that due to the cavernous environment. Some Marlins players later admitted that they "couldn't wait to go on the road" because Sun Life Stadium had the "worst [playing] conditions" and least fan energy in the majors during years when the team was not a contender.
After original owner Wayne Huizenga claimed he lost more than $30 million on the team, he sold the Marlins in early 1999 to John W. Henry. Thereafter, the Marlins began a concerted effort to get their own baseball-only venue. Henry's vision included a retractable roof, believed by this time to be essential due to South Florida's climate and baseball's summertime schedule. Several ideas were explored on where a new ballpark should be built. The team's desire to leave their original home made for an awkward business relationship over leasing issues with Huizenga, who continued to own the then-named Pro Player Stadium. By January 2002, Henry's stadium proposals were effectively scrapped when MLB Commissioner Bud Selig engineered a three-franchise ownership swap—Henry left to own the Boston Red Sox, while Montreal Expos owner Jeffrey Loria took over the Marlins.
Loria and president David Samson continued the search for a new, baseball-only retractable-roof ballpark. The Marlins' second World Series championship in 2003 created some local exuberance for a new ballpark. Then, in January 2004, the City of Miami proposed building a baseball-only stadium for the Marlins at the site of the Miami Orange Bowl that would adjoin the existing football stadium along its northern flank.
Loria and Samson began a push for public assistance to fund construction. The city was initially reluctant to help the team pay for a stadium with tax money, although they supported the project. Miami-Dade County showed more willingness to commit public money early on. In May 2004, county commissioners agreed to fund a portion of a new stadium. The Miami Dolphins notified the Marlins in December 2004 that they would terminate its lease at Sun Life Stadium following the 2010 season if no stadium deal appeared imminent.
A big step came in February 2005 when Miami-Dade County officials unveiled a financial plan for a $420–$435 million ballpark and parking garage for the Marlins east of the Miami Orange Bowl.
The Marlins also attempted to lobby funding from the state of Florida. However, in May 2005, the Marlins' struggles with the Florida House Legislature continued, as its requests of $60 million towards a new ballpark were rejected.
In November 2005, the Marlins' negotiations with the City of Miami officially broke down. With the South Florida community continuing to disappoint when it came to attendance and revenue, despite the team's second world championship two seasons prior, and with the lack of success by the team in 2004 and 2005, the Marlins reacted by reducing their expenses, including player payroll. The Marlins traded veteran players like Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, Luis Castillo, Juan Pierre, Guillermo Mota, Carlos Delgado, and Paul Lo Duca following the 2005 season and brought in fresh blood with players like Hanley Ramírez, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Aníbal Sánchez, Emilio Bonifacio and Dan Uggla.
"We're getting our payroll in line with our revenues", Loria said. "That's what we budgeted for. We're budgeting for anticipated revenue. I'm done losing money until there's a commitment from others. We made a major commitment, the fourth largest in baseball history. "It's as painful as it is disappointing, but it's necessary to make this market correction", Loria continued. "The time comes when you have to say enough is enough."
Huizenga swooped in to counter the city's Orange Bowl proposal by offering 15 acres near what was then Dolphins Stadium and about $50 million for a baseball-only venue in exchange for revenue. But Marlins management was less than enthusiastic about entering another stadium arrangement with Huizenga next to the Dolphins. Selig granted Loria's request to explore cities outside of South Florida as potential homes. Team officials traveled to San Antonio, Texas in December 2005, to meet with officials who showed them potential stadium locations around the city and discussed plans to finance a ballpark. The Marlins also flirted with interest from Las Vegas, Nevada, and Portland, Oregon in 2006.
Although the Marlins did not accept any stadium offers from other cities, such talk of relocation heightened fan anxiety that Miami could lose its team just as Montreal recently lost the Expos—Loria's previously-owned team. Some public opinion trended towards supporting a new stadium. Florida Governor Charlie Crist and Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina were in favor of public funding, saying the project would create jobs and be a "tremendous economic engine for a community." Neither swayed their respective legislatures to approve a deal.
After the Marlins explored other options, including at the former site of the Miami Arena, in August 2007, the Miami Hurricanes announced they were leaving the Orange Bowl, which made the newly-vacant site the most attractive option for local governments.
In December 2007, the Miami-Dade County Commission voted in favor of two initial proposals that would assist in funding. But the County Commission and Miami City Commission continued to debate.
On February 21, 2008, then MLB president and COO Bob DuPuy gave the commissioners this ultimatum during a hearing on public funding: "I just want you to know that if you decide not to make a decision tonight, that will be the death knell for baseball in Miami. We are out of time."
City and County Commissioners appeared to take the threat seriously and within hours voted to approve funding for a new ballpark for the Marlins, in the form of a Baseball Stadium Agreement. The cost of stadium construction was expected to be approximately $525 million. The initial plan called for the Marlins to contribute $155 million all through two separate loans ($35 million of which borrowed interest-free from the county), Miami-Dade County to contribute $347 million (about $297 million of which would come from tourist tax dollars), and the City of Miami to contribute $23 million. The city would additionally shoulder the $10 million cost to demolish the old Orange Bowl site, and another $94 million to construct the new parking facilities.
"This is the final piece of the puzzle", owner Jeffrey Loria said after the funding for the park was approved. He also thanked a long list of city and county officials for "saving baseball in Miami."
Demolition of the Miami Orange Bowl began on March 3, 2008, and was completed on May 14, 2008. Marlins' management began working with architects on the new ballpark's design. (See "Design" section for details.)
The construction deal was put on hold because of a lawsuit filed by auto dealer Norman Braman, the former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles. Braman fought to put the public-spending proposition before voters for approval. However, on November 21, 2008, Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen signed an order that said that a voter referendum was not required for the 37,000-seat stadium's financing plan. That decision was the final remaining charge of Braman's original seven arguments, and Judge Cohen ruled in favor of the Marlins in all of them.
The Marlins hoped to have had final approval on the stadium on February 13, 2009, but were blindsided by a last-minute bid by Commissioner Marc Sarnoff to secure a series of financial concessions from the two-time World Series champions. With stadium supporter Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones on maternity leave and unavailable to vote, the project was left with a 2-2 tie on the stadium.
On March 19, 2009, Miami commissioners approved building the new stadium in a 3–2 vote. Those supporting the stadium deal were Joe Sanchez, Angel Gonzalez and Michelle Spence-Jones. Against the deal were Marc Sarnoff and Tomás Regalado. Also approved, by a 4–1 vote, was a bid waiver for a private contractor to work around the facility. A super majority was required for the bid waiver, and Sarnoff joined the majority. The final issue before the commission, dealing with an inter-local agreement, passed unanimously. With approval by the county, the team would change its name to the Miami Marlins.
On March 23, 2009, Miami-Dade County Commission engaged in more than 9 hours of debate over giving final approval to the multimillion-dollar stadium-finance deal. DuPuy again spoke of relocation if the county would not vote for approval.
During the debate he asked the commissioners if they wanted Miami to become the "only major city in America without major league baseball."
With the South Florida market finishing last in the majors in attendance and payroll in 2008, Samson speculated that the ballpark would improve both areas. He noted new ballparks typically lead to near-capacity crowds nightly the first year in the team's new home, and he estimated an annual attendance above 2 million for at least 7 seasons.
"With the increased revenues we expect from the new ballpark, we would expect to be certainly a middle-of-the-pack, industry-average payroll", Samson said. "But only time will tell."
Miami-Dade County commissioners answered the Florida Marlins' 15-year quest for a permanent home by agreeing to bankroll a big share of construction cost. The vote was 9–4. Voting in favor of the stadium plan were Commissioners Dennis Moss, Bruno Barreiro, Audrey Edmonson, Natacha Seijas, Javier Souto, Barbara Jordan, Dorrin Rolle, Jose "Pepe" Diaz, and Rebeca Sosa. Also, by a 10–3 vote, commissioners approved a bid waiver for the stadium's construction manager. The votes drew applause in the chamber.
But not all were convinced by MLB's arguments that tax money was essential to assist the Marlins' stadium project, especially with debt financing incurred by the county. "We keep hearing 'If you build it they will come,'" said Commissioner Katy Sorenson, who cast a vote against the plan. "I don't believe it. And this 'field of dreams' is going to be a nightmare for our taxpayers."
On April 1, 2009, Miami's planning board voted 6–1 to approve the overall construction permit for the Marlins' new ballpark.
By June 30, 2009, the sale of construction bonds to pay for the new stadium had fallen short of expectations on Wall Street, prompting a scramble at County Hall and a pledge by the Marlins to cover the funding difference. Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess asked commissioners to rush approval on increasing the interest rate on a portion of $409 million in bonds, but said he didn't know what the final costs would be to repay them. In the early hours of July 1, 2009, county commissioners cast the final vote on a set of last-minute changes that cleared the way for the sale of higher-interest bonds, granting Burgess's request.
In the now finalized deal—supported by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, and Burgess—the total building cost of the stadium complex rose by a few million to $634 million. More than 80% of that would be paid for using public money. Analysts of the bonds sale soon publicized that—with interest compounding over 40 years—the total cost to the county to repay them would rise to $2.4 billion. As the Miami media and bloggers circulated reports of the staggering fiscal numbers, construction began with a ground-breaking ceremony on July 18, 2009.
The 2009 election for the next mayor of Miami became a race between two candidates on opposing sides of the controversial stadium vote. As the term-limited City of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz's time in office neared its end, the Marlins endorsed City Commissioner Joe Sanchez's run for the office. Executives from the Marlins and Major League Baseball held fundraisers and donated money to the campaign of Sanchez, a leading supporter of the stadium plan. The Marlins sent their mascot, Billy the Marlin, to appear at some campaign events alongside Sanchez. However, on November 3, 2009, former City Commissioner Tomás Regalado, a leading opponent of the stadium plan, was elected as mayor over Sanchez with 72% of the vote. Regalado attributed his landside victory to his public opposition to the new stadium's financing, his verbal sparring with former mayor (and stadium-plan supporter) Diaz, and his populist message.
During the 2009–10 offseason, the other MLB owners reprimanded the Marlins for purloining too much of the approximately $65-$75 million in revenue sharing and Central Fund monies they receive annually. After the MLB Players Association threatened to file a formal grievance against the team's alleged violations of the league's revenue-sharing provisions, the Marlins formally agreed with the union to use all revenue-sharing proceeds on player development and salaries for the next three seasons. The news raised public suspicion that the Marlins' front office was being dishonest in their arguments to county and city commissioners that they were barely breaking even financially year after year. President David Samson, who had denied the team profited at Sun Life Stadium but would not offer any figures, said:
"Very often the mistake that's made is they look at revenue sharing numbers and the team's payroll and take the difference and see profit without looking at our expenses."
In August 2010, the Marlins' financial documents were leaked to Deadspin and published on the Internet which showed that the team had a healthy net operating profit of $37.8 million in 2008 alone—an amount nearly double the league-low $21.8 million the Marlins spent on team payroll that same year. The documents also showed that they were continuing to turn millions of dollars in profit in the middle of the Great Recession while receiving more revenue-sharing money than any team in baseball by 2009. Analysts extrapolated the data and some concluded that the franchise had profited by more than $91 million in the 3 years leading up to the county commissioners' passing the stadium plan in 2008. Samson immediately called the leak "a crime" while MLB scrambled to find the source of the leak. But many fans and taxpayers in the Miami area were angrier at the revelation contained within the documents. Still, Samson insisted that the Marlins owner, Jeffrey Loria, "didn't put a dime in his pocket", and claimed that the team was in "debt" despite evidence to the contrary. Samson later said the team showed a hefty profit in certain years when it was conserving money for its ballpark project.
A Miami Herald reporter was given access to Marlins financial documents that showed, "Loria's first four years owning the team saw an overall loss of almost $60 million — deficits covered with loans... Since Loria bought the Marlins in 2002, boosting the payroll has failed to bring the spike in ticket revenue needed to turn a profit. Only when he slashed player costs did the team record a cash surplus, according to the records... By the end of that championship season , the Marlins posted an operating loss of $43 million — due in part to attendance that was the third-worst in the Major Leagues. Ticket revenue rose the following year as the Marlins charged more and cut back on discounts, but attendance inched up just one notch to fourth-worst in baseball. Only in 2006, after Loria slashed payroll to the lowest in baseball, did the team begin posting healthy operating profits — $110 million [combined in the four seasons from 2006] through 2009. The surplus dollars came mostly from Major League Baseball's revenue-sharing program, which pays out cash to all 30 teams but has special subsidies for franchises with smaller fan bases. The league paid the Marlins between $65 million and $75 million a year through 2009, according to the statements reviewed by The Herald."
Meanwhile, with the required 1.5% of the construction costs of the public facility, word spread about expensive commissions for art works inside the new stadium, including $2.5 million for a Red Grooms sculpture behind center field. ""The Miami-Dade Art in Public Places program was established in 1973 with the passage of an ordinance allocating 1.5% of construction cost of new county buildings for the purchase or commission of artworks." Some in the public directed their outrage at the government officials who supported the public financing of the stadium during a time of high unemployment, and without a referendum. Opponents of the stadium deal charged that officials had sold out generations of South Floridians to an owner who could have contributed much more to cover the cost for his own building. Proponents of the stadium deal expressed gratitude that Major League Baseball would remain a cultural institution in the community for generations to come.
On March 15, 2011, Miami-Dade County voters ousted Mayor Carlos Alvarez in a recall election, some suggest due to the bonds issue the County selected for the ballpark project and pushing for a higher property-tax rate. His manager George Burgess, who helped engineer the deal, left soon thereafter. County Commissioner Natacha Seijas was recalled alongside Alvarez for largely the same reasons. The recall effort was led by the same billionaire who lost his legal challenge to the park's financing plan back in 2008, Norman Braman. A vocal opponent of the stadium deal, former commissioner Carlos A. Giménez, succeeded Alvarez as county mayor after a special election was held on June 28, 2011.
The franchise held a major rebranding event on November 11, 2011. During the festivities, the "Florida Marlins" were officially renamed the "Miami Marlins" as required by the stadium contract with the city government. The team also unveiled its new uniforms and colors which were designed to match the colors of Marlins Park.
During the 2011–12 offseason, Miami Mayor Regalado publicized details of contract clauses in which the city will incur heavy annual charges. The charges include as much as $2 million per year in taxes to the county for the parking facilities leased to the Marlins, and the city must also pay the Marlins stadium maintenance fee of $250,000 annually. "That [parking-facilities] tax will seriously hurt the City of Miami and the taxpayer will have to foot the bill", said Regalado. "I am also concerned because in that same contract the city has to remit $250,000 every year for the maintenance of the stadium we do not own or operate. This is a bad contract that has become a nightmare." Regalado indicated that city would legally challenge terms of the contract agreed to by the previous administration, but he would not attempt to derail the stadium project.
Hours before the opening game at Marlins Park on April 4, 2012, team executives held a ceremonial ribbon-cutting with Miami-Dade County and city of Miami officials. Neither Miami-Dade County Mayor Giménez nor City of Miami Mayor Regalado accepted invitations to attend the photo-op in a show of solidarity with public opposers of the finance plan. "It would have been hypocrisy on my part to celebrate", Regalado said. "I wish them the best, and I hope this will bring a championship to Miami, but I still believe it was a bad deal for the city."
Loria dismissed the public backlash as "naysayers... and people who just can't stop shooting their mouths off." He said:
There'll always be activists in a community who don't know what they're talking about it, who have their own agendas. There are people who do not understand that we didn't take one dime away from anybody's public services in this city. These dollars that were put into this building from the city were tourist dollars—generated by tourists to increase tourism. And it had to be put back—into what is called the "public-private partnership"—into something like a ballpark or an arena. But a major-league city like Miami needed this kind of facility and they have it now.
a The city's contribution includes $10 million towards demolition of the old Orange Bowl stadium, and $94 million to build the parking facilities.
b The Marlins may spend up to $89.5 million of their contribution on "soft costs"—or, non-construction costs. These include fees paid to designers, consultants, attorneys, and political lobbyists.
The total cost to the county is $2.4 billion, spread over 40 years, to repay $409 million in bonds that will primarily, though not exclusively, cover stadium construction. Roughly $100 million will refinance existing bond debt and another $9 million goes into a debt service reserve fund. The remaining $300 million is for stadium construction, financed in two ways.
One portion, underwritten by Merrill Lynch totaling $220 million, has an interest rate of 6.4% and requires immediate repayment. In October 2010 the county must pay $9.6 million, though there are questions over whether tourist taxes will meet that. Annual payments run through 2049 and climb as high as $71 million per year.
The second portion, underwritten by JP Morgan, is for $91 million, $80 million of that for construction. That carries an 8.17 rate, but repayment doesn't begin until 2025. Yet that grace period comes with a big price: $83 million a year for three years starting in 2038. Then, starting in 2041, six years of payments totaling $118 million annually. The resulting total amount to retire the entire debt: $2.4 billion.
Not listed in the breakdown are the annual charges that the city is required to pay during the lifetime of the contract. They are as much as $2 million per year for the parking-facilities taxes payable to the county, and $250,000 per year to pay the Marlins' stadium maintenance fees. Adding these future expenses to contributions already made brings the city's total stadium expenses to $210.7 million by 2049.
The Marlins received an interest free, $35 million loan from the county that it will pay back through yearly rent beginning at about $2.3 million and increasing 2% each year. Including this debt brings the team's total stadium expenses to $161.2 million through 2028. The county and city combined total expenses are $2.61 billion through 2049.
The stadium deal also gives the Marlins almost all revenue created at the ballpark, from ticket sales as well as food and drink concessions, to parking spaces selling above $10, to gate receipts from concerts and soccer matches when the ballclub is not playing.
The Miami Herald reported on December 2, 2011 that the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) had issued subpoenas to the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County, requesting financial records, meeting minutes and communications with executives from the Marlins and Major League Baseball dating back to 2007. The executives named in the subpoena include baseball commissioner Bud Selig, ex-MLB president Robert DuPuy, Loria and Samson. The investigation may revolve around the Marlins' claims that the team needed public help because it could not afford to pay for a new ballpark.
Under examination are the nearly $500 million in bonds and the circumstances surrounding their sale. Another issue specifically mentioned by the SEC is the $2 million in property taxes that the city is required to pay the county for parking garages operated by the Marlins. Also under investigation are any campaign contributions from the Marlins organization and MLB to local and state elected officials. (Jeffrey Loria, Loria's wife, Robert DuPuy, and DuPuy's spouse are known to have donated to the failed mayoral campaign of city commissioner Joe Sanchez, among others.)
A former lawyer for the SEC said the watchdog agency likely wants to know whether the purchasers of stadium bonds were given full disclosure of the financial status of the borrowers involved, and also whether there may have been any "pay for play" involved on behalf of the parties. If the SEC finds wrongdoing in the investigation, it can choose to bring a civil suit against parties involved, issue fines or refer the case to the United States Department of Justice for possible criminal charges.
Marlins Park has the distinction of being the first MLB park designed in what stadium planners are calling the "contemporary" architectural style. The architecture is intended to shout a statement about the present-day culture of the city in which the stadium stands: Miami. It rejects the nostalgic idiom of the 20 consecutive new (plus 3 renovated) retro ballparks that opened in the 2 decades after Camden Yards was built. Owner Jeffrey Loria, who spearheaded the design, wanted his building to be "different and experimental." Loria said, "I thought it was time for baseball to be innovative."
In early 2008, Loria happened to be in London at the same time as some architects from Populous who were there on another project. The group met in a hotel lobby to begin discussing design ideas. Loria described the meeting:
When it all started, the architects came to me and asked what I had envisioned. Was I looking to have a retro stadium? Did we have that in mind? I said, "No retro, no art-deco, no looking back. Miami is a spectacular city, looking ahead. We need to be looking forward. I'd like to see us build a great, 'contemporary' building"
We had to think about some kind of design for it and what it might look like... I really did not want it to be just another ballpark. I wasn't interested in a 1970s or '80s doughnut... I wanted it to be a statement of what Miami is all about—a contemporary city. Miami is an important American city and architecture makes your city great. The idea was to create something very contemporary.
Loria then sketched his idea of a round building on a napkin and told the architects to bring him back some real drawings. Exec architect Earl Santee, who was present at the meeting, said, "Mr. Loria told us to make a piece of art."
The architects returned to their Kansas City offices and began brainstorming in April 2008. "We were waiting for a client willing to break the [retro] mold", said Greg Sherlock, the project's lead designer at Populous. Loria "sort of let us do our thing and explore something unique. We knew from the beginning that this was going to be something new and different." As a result, classic elements such as redbrick, limestone, and muted forest-green seats or fences, would not be found anywhere in Marlins Park. Any visible steel trusses would be functionally required to be that way, unlike retro-style trusses which tend to be exposed and bare for aesthetics. According to Sherlock, the structure would convey "that a ballpark doesn't necessarily have to be bricks and steel to translate a message about its location. It can be interpreted in a fresh way."
The stadium would also not be symmetrical like the "cookie-cutter" stadiums of the pre-Camden, modern era. But eccentricities to the seating bowl and fences need not appear as contrived as those meticulously added into some of the retro parks (such as "Tal's Hill" in Minute Maid Park, or the "Mo's Zone" in Citi Field).
Populous began conducting feasibility studies for their "primary design objectives." The top objective was creating "a ballpark that is quintessentially Miami," which meant, according to a list of adjectives that the architects drew up: "palms, destination, diverse, recreation, and beach." A similar list was drawn up for the Little Havana neighborhood around the future park: "Cuba, pastels, canopies, organic, and everything is unique." They created a presentation for the Marlins tailored to Loria's background in the art business with concepts such as "the site is a gallery space with the ballpark representing gallery walls", and "pure art... pure color... pure baseball." Four different initial designs were presented, all of which were stark departures from previous ballpark architecture. Both the Marlins' and Populous' favorite choice was a design of an angular white-curves-and-glass facade—a metaphor for the "water merging with land" landscape of the Miami area—which was close to what eventually became the final design.
"For the first time, you can embrace art and architecture and baseball in one building form", Santee said. "It's not just the art in the building, but the building itself is a piece of art."
"If you're looking for a label, I'd say "contemporary", Sherlock said. As well:
In this particular case, we didn't adopt anything stylistically. It's sculpture quality, and with sculpture, there are no rules. We wanted an experience that connects the fan experience to the city of Miami and its people and its climate and culture.
The ballpark is intended to embody Miami so much that its emblematic features would look out-of-place if they were put in other cities.
"We used Miami as an excuse to do things that other cities couldn't get away with", team President David Samson said. "Everywhere you look, it's things that if they were anywhere else, people would say, 'You can't do that.' In Miami, people say, 'Oh, that's Miami.' You have to take advantage where you are."
"Marlins Park is all about Miami", said Sherlock. The exterior is a sculptural monument consisting of gleaming white stucco, steel, aluminum, and glass. The inclining elliptical form avoids creating many rigid, right angles. Angled, cantilevered pedestrian ramps also form elegant geometric shapes. "It's consistent with the essence of the buildings that are down here -- white plaster and graceful forms, which are somewhat of an abstraction of the look and feel of Miami Deco", Sherlock continued. Even the parking-garage walls are tiled in Miami-Deco pastels that connect with Little Havana.
As visitors walk from the outside in, they step right on metaphors for Miami's topography, including concrete pavers that in general are either green or blue ("grass" or "sea"). They walk past landscaping that evokes the "beach"—there's even sand—in places. There's cobalt-blue glass at eye level ("ocean"), the stucco and concrete ("land" or "buildings"), and the paler blue-gray glass at the upper levels ("sky"). The seats are also cobalt-blue, facing the naturally green, Bermuda grass field.
When Marlins fans first realized that the original colors of the team would not appear on the seats in the new stadium—and ultimately not on the new uniforms either—some angrily started a petition known as "Project Teal." But Samson said it was necessary to ignore fans' complaints: "I think any time you do something new and different, the knee-jerk reaction from bloggers or people who post comments is negative. But we have blinders on. This ballpark would have never been built if we had listened to the negativity."
Loria, a notable art dealer, took the four bright primary colors off the palette of the late Catalan surrealist, Joan Miró, to conveniently label different zones around the park—green (outfield), red (third-base line), yellow (first-base line) and blue (behind home plate). "If you look carefully, in those sections, they dissolve into the next color, and the colors mix", Loria said. Wide open plazas at the east and colorful west ends of the building, as well as a 360° concourse inside called the Promenade encourages fans to walk around—and to intermingle at stops such as the bars or the bobblehead museum. Dazzling colors are found throughout the interior, including fluorescent lime-green fences, and in modernist & contemporary works of art—including the much-debated animatronic home-run sculpture—that relate to baseball and Miami.
"My idea was to have people use their eyes and encourage them to use their eyes", said Loria. "We wanted a ballpark filled with great baseball, great entertainment, and occasionally, some images to be seen and enjoyed. It's not about an art gallery. But it's about images relating to the game. There are a few of them in the park."
A nightclub featuring loud music and a swimming pool just beyond the left field fence brings a touch of South Beach into the park. Taste of Miami food court includes such local cuisine as Cuban sandwiches, pork sandwiches, and stone crabs. There's even an aquarium inside the walls of home plate backstop containing live, tropical fish.
Marlins Park pays tribute to the two football stadiums closely associated with the team's stadium history. It transfers over "The Bermuda Triangle" quirk of Sun Life Stadium's outfield fence as a nod to their team's early years. However, instead of straight lines, the new "triangle" is a wave-like shape that smoothly curves upwardly around the base of the large home-run sculpture, making the nook appear necessary to the design of the asymmetrical fence. The height of the tall wall varies from 10 feet (3.0 m) to 16 feet (4.9 m). There are also commemorations to the beloved old Orange Bowl both inside and outside of the park.
A critical design point addresses the tropical climate of South Florida. Fans are provided with the comfort they longed for at Sun Life Stadium with the daunting 5.27-acre retractable roof, retractable-glass wall panels that offer a panoramic view of Downtown Miami, and a huge air-conditioning system. The stadium is also said to be designed to withstand strong hurricanes.
"If our ballpark would speak, its first words would be, '¡Hola, Miami!,'" Loria said during a new-era ceremony.
Instead of framing new technology with nostalgic elements as in retro parks, Marlins Park emphasizes the future. Besides electronic mixed-media artwork, technology is also unmistakably used for commercial purposes. As a way to market to Latino fans, many digital menu boards on the concession stands continuously switch from English to Spanish and back. Also, there are no hand-operated advertisement signs; ads are all computerized.
It's really just how technology is everywhere. You don't see any static ad panels in this building. It's all video-based, IPTV-based. It's all connected. The technology is the blood of the building. It flows through every vein, every piece of building.
What it means is that [stadium operators] could run a third-inning (concession) special and it would pop up... You could have the whole building with one sponsor for one moment, if you wanted to. Or you could do zones. It gives them maximum flexibility for however they want to present their partners as well as themselves.
As part of its forward-thinking design, the venue is an efficient, environmentally-friendly green building in its use of materials, waste, and operation. The selection of building materials included sealants, paint, and adhesives with low VOC (volatile organic compounds) to maximize good indoor-air quality. A white rubber membrane lining the roof reflects rays to reduce "heat-island effect." The extensive glass facade allows in natural light during the day and reduces reliance on artificial light. The suites are built with replenishable bamboo paneling instead of hardwood. Most construction waste was hauled away to recycling centers during the building phase.
Palm trees and other native plant species around the building encourage biodiversity. Levy Restaurants, which runs some of the kitchens, gets most of its fresh-food supply directly from local farms that are within a 100-mile radius of the stadium. Approximately 6 million gallons of water a year are saved with the use of 249 waterless urinals.
An early aim of the new ballpark was to become the first retractable-roof ballpark to be Silver Certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). On May 25, 2012, Marlins Park surpassed that goal by officially becoming the first MLB stadium—and the first retractable-roof stadium in any sport—to achieve LEED Gold Certification, anointing the facility as the most sustainable ballpark in MLB. The LEED-NC (New Construction) rating system credited the stadium with 40 points toward certification, the highest total of any LEED-certified park in the majors—the retro-contemporary ballparks of AT&T Park, Target Field and Nationals Park are the only others to achieve LEED certification.
Although they were publicly seeking silver, Loria had privately challenged engineers to shoot for the higher gold certification. The most difficult aspect of achieving gold, though—and one the design team had doubt it would be able to accomplish—was concerning the energy required to operate the retractable roof. Populous thought renewable energy would be a part of the sustainability equation but the park opened without solar panels. However, engineers optimized lighting, mechanical controls, and electrical aspects enough to achieve a 22.4% reduction in energy usage, which exceeded the 14% required for certification.
The U.S. Green Building Council noted an innovation which earned the facility three credits: Throughout areas of the stadium, including the clubhouses, the floor is made of a synthetic pouring made from recycled Nike shoes. The Council presented Loria with a plaque to signify the entire gold-certification achievement.
Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO and Founding Chair of U.S. Green Building Council stated:
A lot of people have often thought this [LEED Gold Certification] is an award. I'd like to think about this as 'the organization has earned its Ph. D,' because earning one of these is not an easy task. The team that's up here did some amazing things to bring this plaque to the building.
"It was our desire from the onset to not only build America's greatest new ballpark, but also its most environmentally friendly", said Loria.
Since sod was first laid down in early February 2012, the grass has had difficulty growing under the frequently-closed roof. Planners had selected a strain of Bermuda grass—named Celebration—for its reputation of doing well in the shade. Even so, with the grass receiving only about 4 hours per day of sunlight, some of the sod kept turning brown. The worst-affected area is in deep right field where patches of dead sod have been replaced multiple times. Grow lights are pointed by groundskeepers on the area to nurse it to health on non-game days. As of 2014, the Bermuda grass has been replaced with Platinum TE Paspalum. Paspalum is better able to tolerate shaded areas.
During the first months of games played at the new park, at least 4 or 5 leaks showed themselves in the retractable roof. Fans sitting in at least 4 seating sections still got wet under the drippy roof on rainy days. Leaks have progressively appeared under different spots as stadium workers kept plugging them by opening up the roof panels and patching the joints.
Samson said it will take time to work out the kinks:
We knew going in that other retractable-roof ballparks had to make adjustments for one or two years to get their field right. We hoped that we'd get it right the first time. So far it's not right. We're going to keep working and find a way to make it better.
In time for the start of the 2016 MLB season, the park underwent a $500,000 renovation, mainly to lower and move in the outfield walls. The changes were studied and enacted after Marlins players complained to president David Samson that their long balls were not resulting in as many doubles or home runs as in other parks. Since 2012, the park has logged the second fewest home runs of all Major League ballparks, behind San Francisco's AT&T Park. The renovation, engineered by the Populous architectural firm that designed the original park, eliminated the "Bermuda Triangle" in center field and reduced the length from home plate to the center field wall from 418 feet (127 m) to 407 feet (124 m). The walls around the outfield were lowered from heights up to 13 feet (4.0 m) to as low as 6 feet (1.8 m), which will allow outfielders to make leaping grabs for long balls. The dimensions down the left- and right-field lines and in the power alleys were not altered, retaining the park's reputation as a pitcher's park.
The Marlins' front office commissioned several works of art and other notable features around the stadium.
Marlin Park hosted a trio of soft openings prior to Spring training. The first baseball game took place on March 5, 2012 with a high school baseball game between Christopher Columbus High School and Belen Jesuit Preparatory School. The Marlins played an exhibition game on March 6 against the Miami Hurricanes (defeating the Canes 7-6) and on March 7 against the FIU Golden Panthers (defeating the Panthers 5-1). The Marlins then hosted two spring training exhibition games at the new ballpark against the New York Yankees on April 1 and 2, 2012.
Before a sellout crowd of 36,601, the Marlins played their first regular season game on April 4, 2012, against the St. Louis Cardinals (losing to the Cards, 4-1). The inaugural game was nationally televised on ESPN. As part of the Opening Night fanfare, players were announced onto the field while escorted by scantily-clad Brazilian dancers in full headdress. Muhammad Ali threw out the ceremonial first pitch after he was carted out to the field alongside Jeffrey Loria.
In 2011, the Marlins attendance had ranked 28th in majors during their final year at Sun Life Stadium. With a brand new ballpark, hiring manager Ozzie Guillén, and the team's payroll expansion to over $100 million (a club record resulting from the signings of free agents José Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell, as well as the trade acquisitions of Carlos Zambrano and later Carlos Lee), Marlins officials expected attendance to skyrocket.
"With the team we are putting together, we expect there to be very few empty seats at this ballpark ever," David Samson told reporters. "We have always told ourselves build it small and sell it out, and that's what we're going to do."
The Marlins went on to finish the ballpark's inaugural season 18th in MLB attendance, averaging 27,400 per home game. The increase was a significant improvement, but far short of expectations. In fact, Marlins Park had the smallest first-year attendance of the 11 ballparks that had opened between 2001 and 2012. The disappointing figures are largely attributed to the team's poor play on the field, as they finished in last place (69-93) in the NL East Division. Other cited explanations as to why some fans stayed away include opposition to the stadium's Little Havana location, and resentment over the use of public money to build it.
As the team underperformed both on the scoreboard and at the box office in their new ballpark, the Marlins traded away the face of the franchise, Hanley Ramírez, and 4 other veterans with contracts (Aníbal Sánchez, Omar Infante, Randy Choate, and Edward Mujica) in exchange for lower-salaried prospects in midseason 2012. The moves caused more tension with fans and made headlines around baseball that the Marlins had begun the third fire sale in team history—except this time it followed the opening of a new stadium instead of a World Series championship. But Marlins' President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest insisted that trades were not signaling a "fire sale" or a "white flag," despite the sudden drop in payroll. "We understand there's skepticism here," he said. "Yes, we have our history [of fire sales], but that's not what's going on here. This was about the current mix wasn't winning, so let's try something else."
Fan fears of a fire sale in progress appeared to be confirmed during the offseason following the park's opening season as the front office proceeded to turn over much of the roster (including all recent free-agent signings) while massively unloading payroll. Manager Guillén was fired, in part for comments he made before the season about his admiring Fidel Castro's ability to stay in power. Heath Bell was dealt away a week earlier for a minor leaguer. Then, in a bombshell 12-player trade announced during baseball owners meetings in November 2012, the Marlins sent Reyes, Buehrle, ace pitcher Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, and cash considerations to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Yunel Escobar, Jeff Mathis, and 5 prospects. (Escobar was then re-traded for a prospect a month later.) Overall, the Marlins jettisoned more money in contract commitments via trades during the second half of 2012 ($225 million) then they had added in the free agency signings meant to usher in the new stadium era during the previous offseason ($191 million). Team payroll for the stadium's second opening day in 2013 projects to be one of the lowest payrolls in baseball once again.
After years of the pretense that a taxpayer-funded ballpark would finally solve the franchise's cycles of fire sales and low payrolls, the ownership's apparent return to the same policies merely months after construction completed sparked outrage from many Marlins fans. Irate fans and a few players vented anger—some tying stadium deal with the trades—on talk radio and social media, with most criticism directed at either Bud Selig, or Samson and Loria. "We finished in last place. Figure it out... We have to take a new course", a defiant Loria said to one reporter when asked about a fire sale. He dismissed another group of reporters, saying: "Not today boys. If you guys haven't figured it out yet, I'm not going to figure it out for you."
In retrospect, the team's brief honeymoon in their new home made this preseason quip from then manager Guillén sound foreboding: "It's like having a beautiful house and your marriage stinks. We have a beautiful house here, but if the people who live in it are not good, you're not going to have fun."
In a radio interview, Samson sought to put the smaller payroll in perspective with Marlins Park. "It's a great ballpark and now we need a great team to go with it and we thought we had it last year and the evidence was overwhelming that we didn't", he said. When asked if he and Loria had pulled off a "Ponzi scheme" by fleecing the public in the stadium deal and selling them back a "sham" a year later, Samson replied that the stadium is accomplishing its main purpose of keeping pro baseball in Miami. He drew comparisons to their former ownership of the (now relocated) Montreal Expos and Olympic Stadium:
The difference in Montreal, there was no ballpark, there was no future. There is a long term future for baseball in Miami. That's what the ballpark has always been about was making sure an All Star game can come to Miami, making sure that generations will see baseball... [What matters] at the end of the day is not the payroll.
Samson also said, "let's not forget how much money Jeffrey Loria himself put in—over $160 million of his money to get a ballpark built, which has been a very positive thing and will continue to be long after all of us are gone." The stadium contract only required the Marlins pay $125.2 million out of pocket during the early years of the project. Samson was including in his figure the interest-free, $35 million loan that the Marlins will repay to the county by the year 2028.
The stadium hosted its first non-baseball event when Venezuela and Nigeria national teams played a match on November 14, 2012. The field was configured for soccer by covering the infield dirt, placing one goal near the Marlins' dugout on the third-base side and the other in front of the visitors' bullpen in right field. "Baseball is our core product -- it's perfect for baseball -- but as you can see tonight, soccer fits well", said Sean Flynn, senior vice president of marketing and events at Marlins Park. During the stadium's negotiations, the plans included a 20,000 to 25,000-seater soccer-specific stadium to be built directly adjacent to the baseball stadium for a possible Major League Soccer expansion team. The expansion bid fell through in 2008, and MLS has since moved away from building next to Marlins Park, with a preference for a downtown location.
The stadium was scheduled to host the 22nd annual World Music Awards on December 22, 2012, but the event was cancelled due to logistical and multiple visa issues, as well as the stated intent to observe the national mourning of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
In January 2013, Marlins Park began hosting the Miami Soccer Challenge as part of a 3-year partnership with Global Football Challenge.
Marlins Park hosted the Pool 2 during the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic on March 12–16, 2013.
On April 20, 2013, the park hosted "America's Night of Hope" with Joel and Victoria Osteen, an annual stadium event for Joel Osteen Ministries.
The Miami Beach Bowl college football game played its inaugural game on December 22, 2014, between BYU Cougars and Memphis Tigers. The second Miami Beach Bowl was played on December 21, 2015 between Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and South Florida Bulls.
The Marlins and their fans experienced the first rain delay at Marlins Park on April 6, 2015. Playing the Atlanta Braves in front of a sold-out Opening Day audience, a shower moved over the stadium with the roof open. The bottom of the 2nd inning was interrupted for 16 minutes while the roof was closed; the field, however, was sufficiently wet to cause players to slip several times during the remainder of the game, a 2-1 Braves victory.
On June 20, 2016 Marlins Park saw the most-ever home runs hit in one game at the park, with 8 homers in a 5-3 win by the Colorado Rockies over the Marlins. The 8 home runs also set a Major League record for solo home runs accounting for all the scoring in a game, surpassing the previous record of 5.