Don’t pass up stadium renovation deal

The announcement that Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross will pay most of the cost to modernize an aging Sun Life Stadium could not be more timely. It is a starting point for our elected leaders to negotiate a better, fair deal in time to meet the NFL’s May 2013 decision on who will host Super Bowls 50 and 51.

The first two weeks of 2013 were marked by over 100,000 visitors for the Orange Bowl and BCS Championship games. Miami was the center of the sports universe and estimates show the two games brought well over $400 million in new dollars to our economy.

Recent years have seen other cities — Dallas, New Orleans, Houston, San Francisco, Indianapolis and Atlanta —make investments in their stadiums to boost their local economy and attract the same events we seemingly take for granted. Our efforts to become the best “destination city” face the reality that our 1980s-era stadium cannot compete with newer, better venues.

The facts are these:

In May the National Football League will choose which communities will host Super Bowls 50 and 51. Miami is a finalist for these games, but we must modernize Sun Life Stadium if we want to have a viable chance to win. The Dolphins’ team owners have plans to do just that. The prospect of luring additional major events such as college football championships, soccer matches, and future PanAm Games is an added economic and world-stage bonus.

It is misguided to demand that Miami-Dade residents should vote on the proposed sales tax rebate and one-penny sports bed tax. The timing and mechanics of such a vote would likely eliminate Miami from contention for any Super Bowl. Worse, there is no political reason to call for a referendum because the small sales tax rebate does not increase taxes on Miami-Dade taxpayers; it merely provides the stadium with the same rebate afforded to other privately-owned stadiums in Florida. Likewise, the proposed one-cent increase in the existing sports bed tax is borne by hotel visitors, not residents. Perhaps most telling is many of the hotels whose guests would pay this bed tax are supporting the Dolphins’ proposal.

Of the 12 metropolitan areas in the U.S. that boast professional sports franchises in the four major sports, none has hosted as many NCAA football championships or more Super Bowls than Miami. These events produce real dollars, jobs and tax revenues for our economy.

Upgrades to Sun Life Stadium would create more than 4,000 construction and permanent jobs and almost $2 billion dollars in benefits over the next 15 years. Further, team owner Ross has committed to making sure that those hires come from the local Miami-Dade job market and that he, not government, would bear all cost overruns. The “return on investment” for our community is undeniable.

Some believe government should not support a private business, but this is shortsighted. Economic impact aside, Sun Life Stadium serves a larger public purpose, drawing hundreds of thousands of excited spectators and broadcasting Miami’s brand to millions around the world. Each year, hundreds of local businesses receive millions in approved tax incentives and tax credits, including those in designated enterprise zones, in recognition that prudent government fiscal policy means encouraging private enterprise. The Sun Life Stadium proposal is no different.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has prioritized economic development, and the stadium project qualifies as an economic engine by any measure. The mayor has assured the public that any agreement the county negotiates will look nothing like the public Marlins debacle, that it will be a responsible investment, and that it will be a “good deal” for residents.

The mayor needs to negotiate that deal now, and our state legislators and county officials need to make the kind of tough, forward-thinking decisions they were elected to make. Supporting the Dolphins’ proposal will serve the public good, further develop Miami’s standing as a world-class community while stimulating our economy for decades to come at no local taxpayer expense.

Jeff Bartel is chair of the sports committee of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Orange Bowl Committee. Tony Argiz is first vice-chair of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and past president of the Orange Bowl Committee.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

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