Each day, the Miami Dolphins literally count down the seconds until the meeting in late May when the NFL decides where to play the 2016 Super Bowl. The suspense may be team owner Stephen Ross’ best political weapon in winning about $200 million in government dollars for a stadium renovation.
On miamifirst.com, which the Dolphins launched as the online headquarters for their stadium campaign, a ticker in the top corner tracks the days, hours and seconds until May 22, when Ross’ fellow NFL owners are expected to decide between South Florida and San Francisco for the 50th Super Bowl.
The Dolphins and their backers claim the extra dollars that will come from the milestone Super Bowl justifies quick approval of $199 million in government money for a stadium renovation — leaving no time for the extended negotiations or referendum that skeptics of the deal want.
“There is a lot of pressure … to react in a very, very quick way,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr., who last week voted against a resolution endorsing the Dolphins’ financing plan. “It should have been discussed for months before we got to this point.”
Commissioners approved the resolution nine days after the Dolphins unveiled a plan to spend at least $201 million in private dollars on a $400 million renovation. The rest would come from a new $3 million yearly state subsidy to Sun Life and from raising Miami-Dade hotel taxes, which would generate at least $9 million a year under current conditions.
A bill allowing both changes is set for its first hearing in Tallahassee on Tuesday, two days after Sunday’s Super Bowl in New Orleans. If the bill passes, county commissioners would have to vote again to raise mainland hotel taxes to 7 percent from 6 percent to fund the stadium renovations.
The May 22 deadline comes thanks to a schedule set by the NFL, an association governed by its 32 teams. In October, the NFL announced San Francisco and South Florida as the two areas allowed to compete for the 50th game. The contest has played well to the Dolphins’ argument for a stadium upgrade, given the $1.2 billion stadium being built near San Francisco in time for the ’16 game.
NFL teams have long used Super Bowl as a potential reward for communities funding stadium construction. But Super Bowl L in 2016 presents a special case for South Florida, which vies with New Orleans for holding the most Super Bowls in NFL history.
Dolphins executives say a stadium upgrade will preserve South Florida’s Super Bowl edge for years to come, so a stadium plan approved after May would presumably make the region a strong contender for Super Bowls after 2016. But team executives say a delay would probably cost South Florida the benefits that come with the 50th game.
“The NFL’s going to put a lot into it,’’ said Rodney Barreto, the longtime chair of the Super Bowl host committee and whose partner in a Coral Gables firm, Brian May, also lobbies for the Dolphins. “It’s going to be a year-round celebration. It’s their anniversary.”
Super Bowl L isn’t the only argument the Dolphins have made for the $400 million renovation package. They also see a renovated stadium helping attract soccer games and other major events, as well as beefing-up stadium amenities enough to keep the stadium a viable NFL home for at least 25 more years.