Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross decision to give a whopping $200 million to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, was met with broad praise up north Wednesday, with the schools president lauding it as an historic gift.
But in some corners of South Florida, where Ross lobbied for tens of millions in public dollars to renovate his privately owned Sun Life Stadium, many saw it as a thumb in the eye.
Reaction among the rank-and-file Dolphins fans, many of whom never were on board with the failed renovation plan, zeroed in on a simple question: If Ross can afford to cut a $200 million check to Michigan, why not pay for the stadium repairs himself?
They are very different subjects, and I think it is important to be committed to both, Ross said. As Ive often said, Ive promised to pay a large portion of the stadium upgrade costs but, the community who would substantially benefit also needs to be involved.
I also think its extremely important to be a good citizen from a philanthropic standpoint, and to set an example for others to do the same. Both commitments are important to me and both have the potential to leave a lasting legacy that will benefit so many people.
Ross short-lived renovations plan would have raised up to $289 million from a higher county hotel-tax rate and up to $90 million from an additional state sales-tax subsidy for the Dolphins over 30 years to partly fund a $350 million renovation to the aging Miami Gardens stadium. The club would have had to repay some of the money, hold a certain number of events at the stadium and remain in South Florida for the next three decades.
But the proposal, which was contingent on a Super Bowl 50 or 51 award, died after the Florida House of Representatives failed to take a final vote in May.
That Ross had the personal wealth to be so generous with his alma mater came as no surprise to Miami-Dade politicians who grappled with the stadium revamp. After all, they knew the real-estate mogul was a billionaire.
His ask for the roof and improvements I dont think was ever based on the fact that he didnt have the money, said County Commissioner Esteban Steve Bovo, who voted against the deal. He had the money to do it. The issue is that sports franchises have become hooked on public money to do improvements to stadiums all over the country.
Just because Ross is wealthy does not mean he must spend his savings on the stadium, Bovo noted, lauding the donation to Michigan.
I dont really see a correlation between the two, he said. He and his staff and people made a calculation to go after public money. They had their justifications, according to them, to do it, and others had different opinions.
In jest, Bovo added of Florida International University: I wish he could have donated $200 million to FIU, but obviously his prerogative is to support his alma mater.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who struck the stadium deal with Ross, cracked a good-natured joke along similar lines.
I want to congratulate him on his philanthropy, Gimenez said. I just wish that the UM he gave it to was the University of Miami, not the University of Michigan.
Even state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican whom Ross political committee has targeted in fliers criticizing his opposition to the stadium deal, could only praise the Dolphins owner for his largesse.