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11/21/08 2:10 PM EST

New stadium clears last legal hurdle

No voter referendum required for park's financing plan

MIAMI -- It may have just been a formality, but the Marlins appear to have cleared their last legal hurdle for a new stadium.

On Friday in Miami-Dade court, Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen signed an order saying a voter referendum was not required for the 37,000-seat stadium's financing plan. The decision means all seven rulings prompted by auto dealer Norman Braman's lawsuit, challenging the $3 billion that will be spent on Miami projects -- of which the stadium is a part -- went in favor of the Marlins.

"We are very happy that Judge Cohen has entered the final judgment," Marlins president David Samson said in a statement. "We always knew that the facts and the law made it impossible for Norman Braman to prevail. We now look forward to creating thousands of jobs and doing our part to make Miami an even greater world-class city."

The Marlins must now finalize four stadium documents to be voted on by commissioners of the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County before ground is broken. But first, Samson said he needs to determine if the Marlins will, in fact, be able to open by their targeted date of 2011. Samson said the Marlins are within a week of making that decision.

"We are in the final stages of meeting with our construction manager to try to establish what kind of delay was caused by the litigation and whether or not we can still maintain our 2011 schedule," Samson said via conference call. "And, if we even can, what risks would be involved from an acceleration standpoint."

Samson said the Marlins are "very close" to finishing definitive documents and, after that is complete, city and county commissioners will have time to review them before they go to a final vote.

"This will be the last vote in a series of votes that have taken place over the last -- I want to say -- at least five years," Samson said. "This would be the vote to end all votes, as they say."

Samson said the Marlins are "pretty late in the design process," but he is hoping that about a week or two after Thanksgiving they can schedule an event to release the renderings.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez was also quick to praise the court's decision.

"Quite frankly, it's a lot more than just a stadium," Alvarez told the Miami Herald. "It's a $500 million structure. That means a lot of jobs, in the private sector and in the construction field, at a time when they're suffering. Now is the time for government to help in creating jobs."

In early September, Cohen ruled that a stadium does serve a public service, but she was waiting on a ruling from the Florida Supreme Court -- first raised in a case filed in Escambia County -- to decide whether the redevelopment project should go to a public vote.

Back in January, Braman sued the county, the Marlins and the city of Miami in an attempt to derail the plan to build a tunnel in the Port of Miami, a park at Bicentennial Park, pay off a $400 million construction debt at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and build the Marlins a $515 million stadium.

Braman has vowed to appeal Friday's ruling.

The Marlins' new stadium is slated to be built at the Orange Bowl site in the Little Havana section of Miami. Samson disclosed the new stadium's dimensions to MLB.com on Nov. 4.

"I wouldn't say that we're leaning one way or the other [in terms of opening in 2011 or 2012]," Samson said. "The only knowledge I have for you is that there's been a delay. The delay is simply caused by the lawsuit, so we'll see. But I think the bottom line is that -- given the announcement today locally about the unemployment rate and the loss of construction jobs, etc. -- it just reaffirms what the elected officials have been saying and what we've been saying: that this project is an economic-development project.

"It will create jobs and, given everything that's going on in the economy and the announcement today, it makes more sense to get this budget rolling finally after all these years."

Alden Gonzalez is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.