Timing in sports and politics is everything. Standing at that perilous intersection is Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who wants public funding to pay for part of a $400 million renovation he proposes for the privately built stadium. And he says there are only 18 weeks to get this right, before NFL owners select the 2016 Super Bowl site for the big 50th anniversary.
Talk about pressure, real and fabricated.
Two years ago, in the midst of the Mother of all Recessions, the Dolphins were pushing for a canopy of sorts to protect fans, after a Super Bowl game got rained on. That trial balloon sank quickly. Now Ross says he has listened to the community’s concerns and pledges to pay for more than half of the renovation, which would include the canopy to protect fans from rain during a football game (rare) or from too much sun during the summer months when the Dolphins (public sweetener here for our diverse community) want to lure international soccer teams here.
True, Ross is offering a better deal than the one negotiated by Miami-Dade County on the $639 million Marlins stadium and parking complex. In the Marlins deal, the county was left on the hook for about two-thirds of the cost. With interest over 40 years, the bond debt balloons to a billion bucks, and the city of Miami built a stadium parking garage from which it gets no revenue during games.
And though the Marlins deal uses the bed tax as the main source of public revenue, the county had to pledge local taxpayers’ money if the bed tax doesn’t raise enough each year to chip away at the debt. (So far, tourism has been strong and the bed tax has covered the payments. But imagine if, say, five years from now our economy tanks again and local taxpayers have to cover the stadium payments while other public needs go begging.)
Ross’ proposal comes while Miami-Dade County is slowly recovering from the recession, and weary residents aren’t feeling too kind toward billionaire team owners. Worse still for Ross, it comes after the Marlins’ new stadium left a majority of local residents feeling betrayed that their elected officials cut such a bad deal, especially after reports that the Marlins’ financials were much healthier than they made it seem when they were negotiating with county and city officials.
Most of the tax money for the Dolphins stadium re-do would come from increasing the bed tax on hotels in the mainland by a penny, to 7 percent, (excluding Miami Beach, which already has the bed tax targeted for revamping the convention center). That type of tax was created by the Legislature specifically to pay for tourism-related initiatives, such as marketing for tourist destinations and construction of sports arenas, stadiums and arts venues.
Bed, sports and beverage taxes have been an easy way for the political class to help build big sports or entertainment facilities without hitting up a majority of local taxpayers directly. And because it’s mostly tourists’ money, elected officials don’t have to ask voters to approve such funding in a referendum.
Still, after the Marlins fiasco, the Dolphins would build good will in our community by having voters say yea or nay to adding another penny on the bed tax to raise about $10 million a year for the stadium revamp. Ross and Dolphins CEO Mike Dee say there’s no time for that. They hope to wrap it up before the NFL picks the 2016 Super Bowl site in May.