Barreto: Dolphins stadium proposal a ‘unique investment’ for Miami-Dade

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross made an important announcement last week. Realizing our community faces stiff competition from San Francisco and a fast-approaching May deadline to land the blockbuster 50th anniversary Super Bowl, Ross committed to privately fund at least a majority of the $400 million modernization of Sun Life Stadium while pledging to not seek a tax increase on Miami-Dade residents. An experienced builder, he also guaranteed to personally assume any project cost overruns.

The modernization will allow Miami-Dade to continue attracting Super Bowls and college championship games with the same frequency to which we are accustomed. It would not only update the 26-year-old stadium to as-new condition, but also restore it to the original Joe Robbie-inspired football and soccer layout, guaranteeing better sight lines, better seating, state-of-the-art video scoreboards, new kitchens and menus, and a partial canopy to shield fans from the elements while preserving the natural-grass surface.

The proposed design is consistent with the newest international stadiums built for World Cups, the Olympics, and other world-class events.

I applaud Ross’ commitment that any request for public funds would not increase taxes on Miami-Dade residents. To the contrary, the initial proposal would rely on (1) a dedicated sports tourist tax paid by hotel guests on the mainland — a tax that can only be used for sports purposes — and (2) a partial sales tax rebate on refreshments and merchandise sold at Sun Life Stadium, a rebate that eight other professional sports franchises in Florida (except the Dolphins) now receive.

In essence, Ross is offering to jumpstart an economic opportunity that will benefit our community for decades to come without burdening our residents with new taxes, while also creating approximately 4,000 immediate local jobs at a time when our residents need them most.

Some would shy away from this opportunity, fearing investment in another sports facility at this time. Others routinely say “no” to any public investment regardless of the benefits to the community, generally without offering realistic alternatives to address our need to remain competitive.

I can only remind them that a single Super Bowl generates more than $300 million for our community and puts the magic of Miami on the world stage for all to see — something that is priceless. Not surprisingly, a significant number of our county’s largest hoteliers — who experience this economic impact first-hand — have been lining up to endorse Ross’ approach, which despite the proposed increase, would keep our bed tax rates competitive with other major cities.

Ross’ announcement provides a unique — perhaps, once in a generation — opportunity to invest in our future and provide Miami with a 21st Century facility that can serve us for the long-term.

Some like to believe we will get these events and their economic benefits regardless of the condition of Sun Life Stadium. I say that is a risky proposition and point to the Orange Bowl and its condition in the late 1970s and ‘80s, when Miami went a decade without getting a Super Bowl.

I also point to San Diego, a destination that shares our natural beauty, but failed to address its facility and is no longer considered for Super Bowls or college championship games. I fear a refusal to discuss the issue now may not only cost us two or three major events in the short term, but also present a more daunting and expensive challenge in the not-too-distant future.

Last week, state legislation was introduced to enable Miami-Dade to honestly and fairly bargain with Mr. Ross without burdening Miami-Dade residents. Our community should demand that opportunity. To deny an honest and transparent discussion of an economic decision of this magnitude, with so many implications for so many in our community for so many years, would be irresponsible.

We have a long tradition of Super Bowls that has helped our community brand reach far and wide. Millions of visitors annually enjoy our sun, beaches, restaurants, hotels and nightlife while either attending big games or because big games introduced them to the wonders of Miami. We should never be in the position where, despite our weather and hospitality, we failed to compete because we refused to embrace affordable opportunities to improve our sports infrastructure when we had our very best chance, in large part fueled by private funding.

I commend Ross for his promise to approach this issue “the right way.” To just say “no” is not a winning strategy. I’m committed to working with him and other community leaders to meet this economic and competitive challenge head-on. We should review his offer, discuss and improve it, and put it to work!

Rodney Barreto chairs the South Florida Host Committee, which seeks to attract events such as the Super Bowl to Miami.

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