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In the shadow of loanDepot Park, the Marlins' neighbors are making their own economic boon

The MLB team’s home base hasn’t quite delivered on all of its promises, residents say, and the team is having a rough season. The most lucrative outgrowth of the stadium: those with the space to offer paid parking.

A view of loanDepot Park in Miami. (Photo: Dan Lundberg via Wikimedia Commons)

By Cameron Priester and JD Delcastillo

May 16, 2024

MIAMI – As they laid out the blueprint for what would eventually become loanDepot Park here in the part of Miami known as Little Havana, planners imagined a haven for the Marlins.

In their heads, city officials and the Marlins’ brass were about to construct a state-of-the-art shrine to America’s pastime, complete with all the bells and whistles of a modern venue, and even more of the charm inherent to part of the city that would be it’s home base, here in the heart of a neighborhood that has attracted Cuban immigrants for decades. 

It would be surrounded by a lively mixed-use development, and all of it would be supported by a Latin Community in Little Havana where passion for baseball runs deep.

Placing it in East Little Havana gives the stadium the imprimatur of Latin legitimacy,” wrote Peter Richmond in ESPN Magazine when the stadium opened in 2012. “The hope is that Miami's 65 percent Hispanic population will produce a large fan base that spends its dollars in the neighborhood, which then itself will rise.”

But in its now decade-plus of operation, the stadium has yet to provide an economic boost to the neighborhood — a promise made when taxpayers were forced to shoulder much of the stadium's bill. 

“It’s one of those things where the impact of having a ballpark there isn’t really what was promised or anticipated,” said Will Manso, a journalist and longtime Miami-resident who has covered the Marlins for WPLG, an ABC-affiliate in Miami. “Unfortunately, in the decade plus of Marlins Park slash loanDepot Park, it hasn't come yet.”

Despite numerous studies disproving the theory of stadium’s providing economic boons to their neighborhoods, public funds covered around $515 million of loanDepot’s original $634 million price tag, according to the New York Times, leaving the Marlins on the hook for less than 20% of the project cost. 

Due to a shoddy financing plan by county officials, however, the stadium will cost the public north of $2.4 billion by the time construction bonds are expected to be paid off in 2048, as reported by the Miami Herald

“The reality is, it was a lot of money for taxpayers to pay over time,” Manso said. “Politicians and the Marlins made it happen.”

Yet, as the Marlins’ 13th season playing out of Little Havana is underway, the proposed mixed-use developments that would surround the stadium have yet to come to fruition, and residents say more businesses have left than set up shop. 

The Marlins’ on-field performance hasn’t exactly been a huge draw to the neighborhood either. Their exciting finish to the 2023 season and brief playoff appearance — Miami’s first in a full season since 2003 — provided a glimpse of what excitement about the team could do for the neighborhood.

“Last season it was a lot busier,” said Kenia, who lives two blocks from Loan Depot but declined to share her last name. “It was exciting because there was movement, right now it’s bad.”

As did the 2023 World Baseball Classic, when over 295,800 fans descended upon Little Havana for the triennial international showcase, including a raucous, sellout crowd of 36,058 for the championship game. 

“When you walked in there’s instruments playing, there are people on the streets with banners and flags. Walking through, people are dancing to the music. It’s a different vibe,” Manso said of the comparatively lively atmosphere at the World Baseball Classic. 

But the Marlins’ play at loanDepot Park has been lackluster for the most part, and it’s reflected in attendance. 

Since it opened in 2012, loanDepot has never once seen the Marlins field a winning season. Local fans have watched them miss the playoffs 10 of 12 times and garner last-place finishes in the American League East—which they’re again on pace for in 2024.

Consequently, Miami’s attendance has been some of worst in the majors. In the past five full seasons, the Marlins have ranked 29th or 30th of 30 MLB teams in average attendance, including a three-year stretch of the league’s worst attendance from 2018 to 2021. They average 28th of 30 in the MLB attendance in their entire tenure at loanDepot and its inaugural season in 2012 was the only season they’ve ranked above 27th. 

“There’s always that wonder,” said Manso, “if the Marlins are good, genuinely good, how will things be around the ballpark?”

Since the stadium hasn’t provided the jolt to Little Havana’s economy that was expected, some residents have found their own ways to take advantage of living in the shadow of loanDepot Park. 

Surrounded almost entirely by residences, visitors to loanDepot must first careen past the rows of houses that line the streets around the ballpark. And several residents of these homes have discovered a simple yet surprisingly lucrative industry: parking.

The fans that do find their way to a Marlins game, can find endless options for discounted parking via residents' hawking spaces in the driveways, lawns and alleyways adjacent to their homes. And doing so has provided a tangible financial boost for many, including Kenia, who being a stone’s throw away from the stadium, is the owner of some prime parking real estate. 

Another beneficiary of the parking business opportunities is the Ministerios Camino de Fe, a Hispanic church on the same street as the park. Milagros Zuazo, owner and pastor of the church, said that they’ve been selling their parking since the park opened in 2011. 

“As the fans go out, our people come in [for service],” said Zuazo. “It is a good location to be here.”

Zuazo shared that the church plans on opening another location on the opposite side of 17th Aavenue, which is on the west side of the park, and they plan on selling parking there as well.

The church’s neighbor, Alpha Marine Surveyors, has been selling their parking since the loanDepot opened up as well. Donna, who declines to share her last name, said that her father has owned the business at this location for over 20 years.

She said that selling their parking has served as some extra change for the families pockets, and that the traffic doesn’t bother them because “Miami has always had traffic.”

Despite the lack of economic incentive, there is no shortage of passionate Marlins fans within Little Havana’s limits, nor do many residents lament having a stadium entrenched in their neighborhood.

“Having them here is good because people like them a lot. There are a lot of people that love the Marlins, and that’s me,” Kenia, a two-decade Little Havana resident, said through a laugh. “I’m number one fan, too.”

But the grand plan of a thriving hub centered around a baseball stadium have yet to pan out.

“I don't think the people there have anything against loanDepot Park. The attention it brings people around the area isn't a bad thing,” Manso said. “But it certainly hasn’t brought the economic impact.”

A man offering parking outside of loanDepot Park, where the Miami Marlins play. (Photo by JD Delcastillo)

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