Lawmakers Block Dolphins' Stadium Renovation Deal

Mike Ehrmann

Sun Life Stadium is nearly 25 years old, increasingly outdated and per NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, inadequate to host another Super Bowl. Miami Dolphins' owner Stephen Ross and a local economic coalition attempted to fix that with a renovation proposal, but the bill died in the Florida legislature on Friday.

Sun Life Stadium, opened in 1987, is the 10th oldest current NFL stadium. And as newer, world class mega-complexes continue to pop up in NFL cities across the country, Miami finds itself with stiff competition for valuable Super Bowl bids. While it's tough to compete with Miami's weather for a primetime game, the NFL is now favoring high-tech, high-capacity venues.

So Dolphins owner Stephen Ross devised a renovation proposal that would bring Sun Life Stadium into this century; an estimated $350-400 million project funded by a mix of public and private monies. Things would be good, Miami would go back to hosting a Super Bowl every 4-5 years and the Dolphins would have a sleek stadium to match their rebranded logo and uniforms and revamped roster.

But, to get the public funds needed, Ross and a community organization called Miami First must convince the people and the lawmakers to approve the public funds, to be largely raised with a hotel tax assessed primarily to non-residents, according to the proposal. All in all, the team would be asking for up to $289 million in taxpayer money from a region still stinging from a catastrophic 2009 Miami Marlins stadium deal perpetrated by villainous Marlins' owner Jeffery Loria.

To paraphrase the debate of the issue, one side said it was welfare for a billionaire, paying to upgrade a property for a hyper-wealthy NFL owner who should not have to ask the public to finance his profit centers. The other side said it was a worthy, small tax on tourists that would ensure that the economically-vital major sporting events continued regularly.

After a tenacious public campaign by Ross, the stadium bill was left for the state legislature to pass, then move on to a public vote. Except they never held a vote on it before the 60-day legislative session concluded on Friday night, preventing the bill from moving to the next step and eliminating any chance for the team to get the public funding.

So, barring Ross choosing to foot the entire bill, there will be no renovations to Sun Life Stadium, no more foreseeable Super Bowls (Miami was a finalist for both Super Bowl 50 and 51) and an aging facility would continue to deteriorate.

The big events are important to the area, but this development could have a broader meaning to the Miami Dolphins' fanbase -- the team's long term future in the area.

Stephen Ross took it on the chin with this stadium bill, including spending $3.4 million of his own money on a preliminary ballot for it. To compound things for the real estate tycoon, his team currently has an apathetic local fanbase (for reasons that stem from before he bought the team and the nature of the region) and now is making it difficult for him to upgrade his venue. The point: a move, or even a sale of the team which could include a move, is more likely now than if the bill passed.

Places like Los Angeles and London continue to pop up as hypothetical landing places for a moving or expansion franchise, and the business-savvy Ross might just find an avenue to improve the value of his franchise by relocating it to a place more willing to contribute to a new stadium and with better attendance potential.

Ross never explicitly suggested this possibility, only once saying that the renovations would secure the team in Miami for 'another 25 years'. This idea is completely speculative, but is worth a thought.

In the short-term, however, the failed proposal just means that the Dolphins will field their fancy new players and fancy new logo in a old stadium. Instead of worrying about what will happen in the distant future, fans can just hope Miami can reach a Super Bowl sometime soon.

A Super Bowl that won't be played in Miami.

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