Dolphins vote a message to Tallahassee

It is always difficult taking an unpopular vote. It is especially true when past mistakes cast a dark cloud over the issue. For me, this was not the case when I cast my vote in support of exploring options for the Dolphins stadium.

It is important to understand that this was a first step. Without this vote there can be no meaningful negotiations. If this is not approved in Tallahassee there is no funding mechanism to make this possible. So if our community wishes to engage in a thoughtful conversation on whether investing tourist tax dollars is a worthwhile cause this resolution needed to be approved. Asking for details before any show of support is putting “the cart before the horse.”

Great communities have great infrastructure. These include roads, airports, seaports, utilities, entertainment venues, cultural centers, transit and other assets that enrich a community. If we are honest with ourselves we can admit that we are not great, but to change will require sacrifice and commitment from this community. As chair of the Infrastructure Committee, I’m committed to putting our community on track to have a world-class infrastructure that will give us a competitive edge in the future. Upgrading the Dolphins stadium is part of this process.

Most every decision we make on allocating public dollars benefits private enterprise. We do it with airlines and cruise ships at the airport and seaport, with land owners when we make land use decisions, with property owners when we open new roads or with private developers when we allocate affordable housing dollars. What justifies all these investments is the final public and economic return from these investments to our community.

This vote was also important because we needed to send Tallahassee a message that we want to chart our own course. I served in the Legislature for eight years. I can tell you that Tallahassee is not a friendly place for Miami-Dade’s interests and if the Miami-Dade Commission didn’t show support for this issue there was no way the Legislature would.

Moving forward, I am convinced that unless the final proposal put forth to the County Commission is fair and beneficial to Miami-Dade, the votes will not be there. I will not support a deal whose community return on investment is less than what we invest. I will not be tantalized with the promise of jobs, threats of moving or the other disingenuous reasons that others have offered in the past.

Instead I encourage the mayor and the Dolphins to consider giving the county an equity stake in the stadium and ask for at least a 60 percent investment from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. I would like to see the man who originally built the stadium with his own money, Joe Robbie, be properly honored by bringing his name back and that the county receive a direct and tangible benefit off of every major event held at the stadium.

The Dolphins can also re-commit themselves to Miami-Dade and ensure that the Dolphins organization touches every corner of this community.

A final thought and a point that usually gets left out of the public discourse: The other football stadiums built in Florida used taxpayer dollars and also received the very tax rebate we are now asking for. They don’t come close to getting the number of big games that we attract. Our real competition lies outside of Florida and unless we want to relegate ourselves to second-class status in the sporting world we need to show we are willing to be a player.

Our community finds itself at a fork on the road and it won’t be the last time. We can take the politically convenient route and fall prey to our past mistakes or we can embrace the opportunity to put our community in an elite category. We can start to make the tough choices that will set us on a path to a bright future. This is only a first step but it is a step in the right direction.

Juan C. Zapata represents District 11 on the Miami-Dade County Commission.

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