MIAMI — Art and wine collector, philanthropist, luxury auto dealer, former owner of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. Now Norman Braman can add this: staunch opponent of a $3-billion public works deal that includes a long-sought stadium for baseball's Florida Marlins.
Braman is suing to scrap Miami's "global agreement" in its tracks, contending that it was illegally hatched in secret and improperly uses money intended to cure urban blight and help poor people. Braman wants voters, not politicians, to decide projects of such magnitude.
"Taxpayers in this town have been ripped off constantly over the years," Braman said in a recent interview in his downtown Miami office, ticking off such recent scandals as affordable housing waste and fraud, and billion-dollar construction cost overruns at Miami International Airport.
"It's time that as citizens of this community that we say enough is enough — that we're not going to put up with this anymore," he added.
The 37,000-seat, retractable-roof Marlins stadium — along with a 6,000-space parking garage and possibly a future adjacent soccer stadium where the soon-to-be-razed Orange Bowl now sits — is only one part of the grand agreement between Miami and Miami-Dade County.
It also envisions a $1-billion tunnel under Biscayne Bay for trucks rumbling to and from the Port of Miami, a passenger trolley line serving the downtown area, additional money for a just-opened performing arts center with budget problems and work on a park that will become home to several Miami museums.
Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, politically an independent, said each project has been discussed exhaustively for years, and each will contribute to the city's revitalization and create jobs.
Braman, 76, contends in his lawsuit that the deal approved in December violates Florida's Sunshine Law requiring open government because many negotiating sessions were conducted in private between the city, county and the Marlins. The lawsuit claims that money intended for districts created to fight poverty and blight is being illegally diverted into the projects.
Braman, the Eagles' owner from 1985-94, said he's not flatly opposed to a new Marlins stadium but favors private financing. He called the trolley car idea a waste of money and questions the need for the port tunnel.
But what really rankles Braman is what he considers a misuse of tax dollars intended for the poor. He even paid for a raft of radio ads in January attacking the plan as a "downtown double cross" in both English and Spanish.
If officials would put the issue to voters, Braman said he would drop his lawsuit. But Diaz said many of the projects have been approved by voters.
The Marlins, who hope to play in the new stadium in 2011, have threatened to move to another city if it doesn't get built. They play in Dolphin Stadium, home of the NFL team, under financial terms the Marlins don't consider favorable to them.
Marlins executives and owner Jeffrey Loria declined comment on the lawsuit, as did Miami-Dade County officials.