Carl Hiaasen | In My Opinion

Carl Hiaasen: Another boondoggle in the works

 

chiaasen@MiamiHerald.com

Here’s all you need to know about the Miami Dolphins’ outrageous scheme to publicly finance renovations at Sun Life Stadium:

Donald Trump thinks it’s a great idea.

The team features a quote from the ubiquitous gasbag in a big advertisement touting the football stadium makeover.

They’ve also attacked auto tycoon Norman Braman, who fought a fierce fight against the Marlins Stadium rip-off, and is poised to do the same against Sun Life.

The Dolphins insist their stadium package isn’t nearly as stinky as the one that produced the new baseball park in Little Havana. They say Sun Life needs $199 million in state funds and tourist-tax revenues as part of a $400 million project to upgrade jumbo monitors, reconfigure the seating and construct an open-air canopy.

(In addition to providing shade, a canopy could be slyly designed to block the view of TV cameras in the MetLife blimp. That way, the rest of the country could no longer see the embarrassing acres of empty seats at Dolphins games.)

The team only plays eight times a year at Sun Life, unless it makes the playoffs, but the renovation isn’t being done for local diehard fans. The mission is to attract another Super Bowl.

And, just like the Marlins, the Dolphins will do anything to prevent a public referendum on the stadium project. They know it’s unpopular. They know it would get crushed at the polls.

The team’s only hope is to keep the decision with the politicians, whose judgments can be cosmically affected by lobbyists, campaign donations or VIP treatment in a skybox.

That’s how the Marlins ballpark got built — by strenuously avoiding the voters, while avidly courting city and county commissioners.

Supporting that deal was one reason why Carlos Alvarez, then Miami-Dade’s mayor, got recalled from office. He has since taken up bodybuilding, which is one way to discourage former constituents from hassling him about the stadium.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is trying to distance himself from the Marlins debacle in a PR blitz. He proposes using public dollars to finance 49 percent of the football stadium renovations, compared to the 75 percent public funding of the Marlins’ stadium and parking garages.

However, the new baseball facility belongs to the public, at least on paper. Ross privately owns Dolphins stadium.

He wants a $3 million annual subsidy from the state’s general fund (enough to cover the team’s property taxes), and an overall hike in Miami-Dade’s mainland hotel tax to 7 percent from 6 percent.

That extra 1 percent would go toward remodeling the football stadium. Ross says he’d commit $201 million in private funds, although some of that would likely come from the NFL’s brimming coffers.

Despite anemic attendance, the Dolphins are still making a profit. Yet the team also has a heavy debt load, partially left over from a $210 million facelift done in 2007 by then-owner Wayne Huizenga.

Annual debt payments are soon set to jump from about $9 million to $20 million, but Dolphin executives assert that no money from the proposed new project would be used to pay down the old loans.

No matter how you dress it up, Braman is right — it’s just welfare for billionaires. He speaks from experience, having accepted public funds to add stadium skyboxes in Philadelphia back when he owned the Eagles.

In city after city, tax money has been used to subsidize the sports palaces of wealthy team owners. And one economic study after another shows that the promised windfall never materializes, and that state and local governments end up getting screwed.

Yet the scam never changes. Seriously — we’re supposed to be grateful that the Dolphins want the public to pay for only 49 percent of the stadium upgrade?

Taxpayers are gagging, but guess what? Last week, the Miami-Dade commission voted 9-4 to ask the Legislature to pass a bill launching the Dolphin stadium project.

The resolution is nonbinding, though portentous. The county’s already sitting on a dog-pile of debt from the baseball fiasco, yet nine gullible commissioners are ready to take on a football subsidy.

For future reference, they are Lynda Bell, Bruno Barreiro, Pepe Diaz, Audrey Edmondson, Sally Heyman, Jean Monestime, Juan Zapata, Dennis Moss and Barbara Jordan, the resolution’s sponsor.

If this boondoggle goes through, they could all end up pumping iron at the same gym with ex-mayor Alvarez.

The current mayor, Carlos Gimenez, has been instructed to commence negotiations with the team. Gimenez, who won office because of his staunch opposition to the Marlins project, has vowed not to let the Dolphins obtain a similar deal.

There’s only one way to make sure that won’t happen: Put it on a ballot.

Then let the Dolphins deploy Trump as their campaign spokesman.

Please.

Read more Carl Hiaasen stories from the Miami Herald

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