By all measures the deal struck by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez with the Miami Dolphins to modernize the stadium with a canopy and more seats is nothing like the one former county officials struck with the Miami Marlins for a new ballpark.
First big difference: Voters get to decide the final outcome.
The County Commission is expected to give the go-ahead, when it meets Wednesday, to put the proposal on the ballot by May 14 — a week before NFL owners will award Super Bowls 50 and 51.
Second big difference: The team released its books to county officials, and the agreement requires the Dolphins’ financials to undergo an independent audit. Good call. Former county manager George Burgess and ex-Mayor Carlos Alvarez never did the due diligence to require the Marlins to open the baseball team’s books.
Among other concessions Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and team CEO Mike Dee made:
• The Dolphins will pay for the local referendum, as much as $5 million.
• Of the extra penny in the bed tax that mainland hotels would be required to charge under a bill in the Legislature, the Dolphins would get 75 percent of that revenue, about $7.5 million a year. The other 25 percent would be used by the county to promote the area’s tourism industry, particularly the mainland hotels — a plan the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association pushed.
• The bed-tax payments would continue for 26 years. At the end of 30 years, the Dolphins would refund up to $120 million to the county — pretty much the loan. (There is nothing like that in the Marlins deal, which required the county to float hefty bonds.)
• The team would pay up to $120 million in penalties if it does not draw the sporting events to the stadium that it has promised, including four Super Bowls and four national college football championships and certain international soccer events. Penalties also would ensue if the Dolphins were to leave — unlikely for a team that has called Miami home since 1966.
• The Dolphins have skin in this game. They are paying for more than half of the $350 million renovation compared to the Marlins at 25 percent — and the Dolphins are responsible for the bonds, to boot.
We certainly don’t think this deal is perfect — for instance, Broward County is not going to contribute a cent yet its hotels have much to gain from out-of-state fans. Also, the use of the bed tax for sports facilities is allowed under the law, but many Floridians are getting tired of bailing out big franchises.
There’s also the issue of a sales-tax rebate for items sold at the stadium, which would amount to about $3 million a year. Other sports teams and raceways in Florida are jumping on that bandwagon. That affects local taxpayers directly — not out-of-state visitors — when the sales-tax money (unlike the bed tax) could go to help pay for a host of statewide needs.
Nevertheless, the Dolphins will continue to pay property taxes on the privately owned stadium to the county (which owns the land) and the city of Miami Gardens. That, too, is different from the Marlins deal because the county owns that ballpark.
No doubt the Marlins deal left a sour taste for taxpayers, but the agreement that Mayor Gimenez crafted with the Dolphins management is really a game-changer in public-private financing deals. It seeks to protect taxpayers while focusing on the economic opportunities a revamped stadium holds. Voters should get to decide if it’s worth it.