It isn’t often we get to discuss eminent domain on this site, but the stadium situation in Orlando has brought that arcane legal concept to the fore. For those unfamiliar with the term, eminent domain is the power of the government to take private property for some public purpose (it can be a bit more complex, but that is the general idea). When a government entity exercises its eminent domain powers, it must pay fair compensation for the taking. The power is embedded in the fifth amendment to the US Constitution and has long been a part of American public policy. In Orlando, construction of the future home of Orlando City requires the demolition of multiple structures, including a church. As is typically the case, efforts were made to negotiate a payment (apparently well in excess of fair market value), but the church refused, and now the City is threatening to use its eminent domain power.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Church countered the City’s $1.5 million offer with a demand of $35 million. The parcel has been appraised at less than $700,000. The City will now file in court to have a fair price set for purposes of eminent domain. According to the Sentinel, “Church members based their asking price, in part, on the city’s decision in 2007 to spend about $35 million to acquire a piece of First United Methodist Church’s downtown campus so the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts could be built.At the same time, church members said they expected the city to continue negotiations with another offer.”It comes as a surprise to us,” Jonathan Williams, son of the church’s founders, said of the eminent domain action. “We’re still looking to work with them. What they were offering and what it would cost us to move just didn’t jibe.””
Ultimately, the decision may be left to the courts, but these types of proceedings can certainly delay the construction process and impact the planned 2015 opening of the stadium. There certainly could be a debate about whether a stadium is sufficiently “public” to meet the eminent domain standard, but the recent Kelo v. New London case (a US Supreme Court decision) confirmed that such uses are permissible, suggesting that the City will have the stronger argument. However, the decision was nine years ago and the makeup of the court has changed (and it was a 5-4) decision, so the issue could certainly be ripe for appellate action.