The Miami Dolphins took their Sun Life Stadium renovations pitch on the road Thursday, highlighting support from a county commissioner and the mayor of Miami Gardens, the team’s hometown for 26 years.
The politicians’ backing carries weight in the city that perhaps knows the Dolphins best.
But that neighborly history also has made some people in Miami Gardens skeptical about the team’s promises of economic benefits from the planned $400 million in renovations, about of half of which would be funded by taxes.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert and Dolphins CEO Mike Dee stressed that upgrading the stadium to attract more international soccer games and concerts during the football offseason would employ more locals, bring customers to the city’s shops and restaurants, and spur development on vacant parcels nearby.
“When people come to a Super Bowl or a national championship in Miami Gardens, they eat on Brickell, and they sleep on South Beach. And they shop in our stores. They support our businesses,” Gilbert said. “That’s what this is about.”
He called the Dolphins “our largest taxpayer and a vital community partner.” The team sponsors some of the city’s biggest events, including the annual Jazz in the Gardens festival.
But that has not done much to assuage the concerns of others in the city, who say Miami Gardens has received little payoff from being home to the stadium.
“I’m a Dolphins fan, but I have to say, very honestly, there has not been an incredible windfall to this community,” said former City Councilman André Williams.
Williams said the city should draw up a marketing plan to lure sports fans and event-goers to nearby businesses, to ensure that any deal to receive county taxes makes sense.
The Dolphins’ proposed financing plan relies on a new annual $3 million state subsidy and a hike of county mainland hotel taxes to 7 percent from 6 percent.
The state money could go instead to public services, Jordan acknowledged Thursday.
“Those dollars do go to schools, and to roads and highways,” she said. But other teams receive state subsidies from sales-tax revenue they help generate, and the Dolphins deserve more of that money, she added.
“It’s bringing our money back to our community — I don’t see a problem with that,” she said.
On Monday, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, whom commissioners tasked with negotiating with the team, announced that the Dolphins had reversed their position and agreed to put a potential deal for tax dollars to a public vote — before May 22, when NFL owners will award the 2016 and ’17 Super Bowls.
As part of its campaign to drum up support, the team held Thursday’s news conference at the Betty T. Ferguson Recreational Complex in Miami Gardens, down the street from the stadium.
Dolphins players and coaches sometimes volunteer at the complex, Jordan said. But there was irony to the location: Ferguson, a former county commissioner, burst onto the political scene leading the opposition to the stadium.
Ten-year-old Miami Gardens, the county’s third-largest city, didn’t exist at the time. Instead, Ferguson rallied residents from the Crestview and Rolling Oaks communities. A homeowners association filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the county, arguing building the facility would break up middle-class black neighborhoods.