Over the weekend, Miami political consultant David Custin’s DRC Consulting firm began robocalls to 160,000 potential voters, urging them to vote “no.”
Custin said the calls in English and Spanish opposing the proposed renovation will continue over the next few days.
He said he’s financing the robocalls because the Dolphins were campaigning “unfettered” for an off-year election that will likely result in low voter turnout.
Opponents of the renovations — particularly Miami auto magnate Norman Braman — have decided to lobby state lawmakers against the deal rather then fund a political campaign through media outlets. The Dolphins have reported raising $1 million for their outreach efforts, from Ross’s stadium coffers.
Even as the sides ratcheted up their campaigns, in-person early voting on Monday’s first day was abysmal to slim at most polling stations, which opened at 7 a.m., and were closed by 3 p.m.
Jackie Lane, 50, a cook at the Miami Beach Convention Center, said she trekked downtown specifically to vote.
“I’m against it. There are enough things private citizens have to pay for. We did enough for the Marlins,” she said.
One woman at County Hall who declined to give her name said she voted in favor of the renovation because it will improve her life.
“I intend to go there and get a part-time job,” she said.
Only 36 people voted at Hialeah’s John F. Kennedy Library. One of them, Matilde Moran, 58, said the stadium should be renovated because of the expected economic impact.
“I believe it will bring more events here,” she said.
Chicago Bears fan and North Miami Beach resident Roberta Rootberg, 68, voted with 191 others at the North Miami Public Library. She’s in favor of the makeover because “a lot of people think they’re paying for it, but they are not.” She said Sun Life needs an upgrade “to be competitive.”
Though the majority of the money would come from increasing tourist taxes, the funds are public money that could be spent on other issues related to tourism. Another chunk, $3 million a year that would come from a sales tax rebate, could be used for anything from maintaining schools to hiring police officers.
Less than six months after enthusiastic crowds flooded to the early polls for the last presidential election, turning sites like the Lemon City Library into circus-like atmospheres with lengthy lines and speakers on megaphones urging the crowds on, some polling stations went hours without voters.
Lemon City only had 31 all day. Only 30 people voted at Aventura City Hall, 34 at the North Shore Branch Library, and 59 at Miami Beach City Hall.
The Dolphins took a large gamble with the referendum, agreeing to cover the $4.78 million bill even though the vote may not count. That’s because the team only gets its money if state legislators vote to up the mainland tourist hotel tax from 6 to 7 percent.
As of Monday evening, the Senate still had yet to send a version of the bill proposing the increase to the House of Representatives. State Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, who is sponsoring the bill, said negotiations are ongoing between the two chambers, and he still hopes to reach a deal by Friday.
The Dolphins hope to could receive up to $289 million from increasing the hotel tax and from a $90 million state sales tax subsidy, both over 30 years. The football club has agreed to refund the county up to $120 million and the state $47 million when the contract term expires in 30 years.
Ross has guaranteed several Super Bowls, college football championship title games, and international soccer matches here if the referendum passes. If the events don’t take place as promised he has agreed to pay substantial financial penalties to the county.
Carlos Duarte, a 65-year old retiree who lives in South Beach, was one of the 59 voters at City Hall Monday. He voted against the deal because he wasn’t reassured by politicians’ promises that this deal would be different than the Marlins deal. He said he’s also against using public money for private construction.
“I don’t believe much in the promises of politicians,” Duarte said. “We already saw what happened with the stadium in Little Havana.”
One of West Kendall Regional Library’s 62 voters Monday was Camp Nivio, 80, who wants the stadium renovated.
“A stadium like that has a lot of potential and would bring an incredible amount of business to the community,” he said.
Miami Herald staff writers Melissa Caceres, Barbara Corbellini Duarte, Joey Flechas, Patricia Mazzei, Christina Veiga and Marc Caputo contributed to this report.