Reuters

The new $634 million stadium is ready to go, but how fans will get there remains unclear

Next season the Miami (nee Florida) Marlins will move into a new $634 million baseball stadium. Judging by its most recent player acquisitions, the team is willing to spend whatever it takes to lure fans into the seats. They recently signed shortstop Jose Reyes to a $106 million contract. They followed that up with a $58 million deal for left-handed pitcher Mark Buehrle. Although they lost out on free agent prize Albert Pujols, the team's offer — north of $200 million — was not exactly shabby.

Exactly how those fans will get to the seats is a another matter. With the season just a few months away, the stadium's transportation plan remains noticeably incomplete. Most fans will drive: roughly 5,000 garage spaces are intended for season ticketholders, and another 4,000 or so offsite spots will be available nearby. Still parking alone can't fill the 37,000-seat stadium, and the team expects a considerable number of fans to arrive by public transportation; its executive vice president of ballpark development recently said as much: "Everyone wants people to use public transit." But as of right now the team's transit strategy has received far less financial attention than its free agent signings.

At a late-October meeting to discuss stadium transportation, team officials stressed that many fans would arrive by bus and rail. But the three closest metro stations — Civic Center, Culmer, and Government Center — are nearly a mile, exactly a mile, and about a mile and a half away from the stadium, respectively. Ideally a number of bus lines would be extended to drop fans closer to the ballpark, and while the city intends to run trolleys up to the venue, "its trolley operations don't yet exist and a contract with an operator has yet to be signed," according to Miami Today. The team has done well in creating about 500 parking spaces for bicycles, but the bike infrastructure around the stadium remains undeveloped, aa Transit Miami has noted.

Considering the poor state of the stadium transit plans, the team's assertion that a large percentage of fans will arrive by public transportation strikes Transit Miami blogger Tony Garcia, who was at the October meeting, as "downright dishonest":

I have to wonder why these people believe that anyone would go through the trouble of transferring two or three times to get close to the stadium, to then walk a mile from Culmer or Civic station or take a shuttle. Are they nuts? Both of the closest stations are about a mile, without taking into account the treacherous 3′ sidewalks, dangerous intersections, and completely lacking pedestrian amenities along the way. The tone deaf nature of this meeting was nothing short of shocking to someone like me that actually does walk, bike and take transit. If these people used the infrastructure they are claiming thousands of people will use to go to games, they would be more honest about the true state of affairs and make every possible attempt to make the real transit connections possible.

The Miami-Dade Transit agency is trying to scrounge up nearly $5 million in federal funding to address the problem. Most of that money would go toward the extension of ten bus lines. A small part of it, $234,000, would pay for a one-mile shuttle from the Culmer station to the stadium. But even if the federal grant goes through, the money may not arrive by opening day. The regional authority in charge of considering the grant request recently postponed its decision until the end of January, and an approval would still be followed by a few months of federal review.

Oddly enough, the grant request will be made on behalf of ballpark workers, not fans, Miami Today reported last Thursday. Any shuttle money that does arrive will do so through the Job Access & Reverse Commute program, which is aimed at low-income employees. The team estimates that about 2,000 stadium workers would use the service. Now the shuttle could carry fans as well as workers, but the last-minute, somewhat-backwards grant effort suggests that public transportation didn't figure into the stadium plans as much as it probably should have.

The federal grant isn't the team's only hope for a Culmer station-to-stadium shuttle. Anyone with a spare $234,000 can foot the bill. But the county — which lent the team $35 million for the ballpark — now says it can't afford to provide the shuttles, and the team itself doesn't appear willing to do so. That's got at least one local writer upset. As Miami Today writer (Not That) Michael Lewis put it, the Marlins could fund the Culmer station shuttle and another one from the Civic Center for less than the minimum salary of a single player. That's $480,000, or about a quarter of a percent of what they offered Albert Pujols.

Photo credit: Reuters/Joe Skipper

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