Dolphins Stadium Renovation Plan Supported by Miami-Dade County

Mike Ehrmann

In a small, but important, first step toward the proposed upgrades to Sun Life Stadium, Miami-Dade County has endorsed the public financing initiatives requested. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has asked for a one cent increase in the county bed-tax, as well as a $3-million-a-year sales tax rebate on good and services sold at Sun Life Stadium. The non-binding resolution passed 9-4.

The Miami Dolphins now have the support of the Miami-Dade County Commission in their attempt to renovate Sun Life Stadium, partially using public funding for the work. The non-binding resolution passed by a 9-4 vote, giving the Dolphins local support as they attempt to get the Florida State Legislature to pass a bill that would officially authorize the funding.

The Dolphins are asking for a one-cent increase in the "bed tax" in Miami-Dade County, as well as a $3-million-a-year rebate in sales tax revenue generated by goods and services at Sun Life Stadium. Stephen Ross, the owner of the Dolphins, has pledged to pay for at least half of the $400 million renovations himself, meaning the team is asking for approximately $199 million in public funding.

The hearing yesterday, which ultimately led to the county approval, included several discussion points, including the unpopular building of Marlins Park, the new stadium on the site of the old Orange Bowl, the Dolphins original home, that now serves as the home for Major League Baseball's Miami Marlins. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, during the hearing, vowed that, if the state approves the funding, his negotiations with the Dolphins will be better for the city than the Marlins Park negotiations.

The Dolphins stressed that, with the renovations, Sun Life Stadium will continue to serve as a host site for the Super Bowl and NCAA National Championship games, something that Marlins Park can only do, with MLB's World Series, if the Marlins qualify for the championship.

The NFL franchise also agreed to open its financial books to the county, if requested. While the county did not request to see the Dolphins' finances at this point, they still have time to pour of the finances. In order for the requested funding to be approved, the state legislature has to approve the ability for the county to increase the bed tax, then the county has to approve the actual increase.

With the 9-4 vote non-binding yesterday, indications are, the county is not guaranteed to approve the final measure without more information from the Dolphins.

Other discussed items included the question of why Ross, who is valued by Forbes magazine at over $4 billion, doe not pay for the renovations himself. The Dolphins pointed out that, due to renovations completed by former owner Wayne Huizenga, which added the ability for Sun Life Stadium to host baseball games and eventually brought the Marlins to South Florida, the team still has a debt on the stadium. Under NFL rules, a team can only carry a certain amount of debt against its stadium. That debt is set to come due over the next few years, unless Ross can negotiate an extension on it. The Dolphins have stated that none of the currently requested money would be used to pay back the previous debt.

Also brought up was why Broward County, where the Dolphins host their training facility, was not being requested to increase their bed tax. Under current county laws, Broward county cannot authorize any money raised in their county to be utilized to fund a project in another county. Sun Life Stadium sits just a few miles south of Broward County.

The Miami-Dade county commission did also ask the Dolphins to consider returning to Miami-Dade county with their training facility. The team previously trained in Miami from 1970 to 1993, when they moved to Davie. Ross upgraded the team facilities last summer. Any move back to Miami would have to be negotiated, and it is unclear if Miami-Dade county would include that in their final approval of the funding.

The team is also working to sway public attention away from billionaire autodealer and former Philadelphia eagles owner Norman Braman, who is against any public funding for stadiums. Braman opposed the Marlins deal, and eventually tried to file a lawsuit against the deal. The Dolphins have already taken out ads in multiple publications against Braman's arguments for the stadium deal to be rejected.

The Dolphins could receive funding from a 0% loan from the NFL to assist in Ross' contribution to the stadium renovations. However, under NFL rules, the league will not contribute more than public funding. The "loan" comes out of revenue sharing every team already pays, meaning that the Dolphins are already contributing to the "repayment," and will have to continue paying into the fund, whether they use the program or not.

The approval received yesterday was a small step for the Dolphins in their request to get the stadium funding in place before the NFL announces the winner of the Super Bowl L bid. The 50th championship game, to be held in February 2016, currently pits the Dolphins' against the San Francisco 49ers new stadium in Santa Clara, California. The renovations are considered a major point in the Dolphins' attempt to lure the Super Bowl back to Miami.

Several state legislators had requested the county signal their support of the planned public funding before any vote was taken in Tallahassee. With the vote yesterday, the Dolphins will now use the support as part of their lobbying for the state to approve the plan, before returning to the county to work out the final details.

The NFL is expected to announce the Super Bowl L and LI host cities in May.

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