As they rework their front office, the Miami Dolphins also seem to be rewriting their playbook for winning public dollars for stadium renovations.
Team CEO Tom Garfinkel told a business group Wednesday that the team is working on a new approach to upgrading Sun Life Stadium after last year’s push for a tax-funded renovation failed in Tallahassee.
“We are having a lot of discussions about the best ways to get to that,” he told the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce during a panel discussion on the local sports industry. Afterward, Garfinkel told reporters: “We are working hard on trying to put together a timeline and a plan on how we can get this accomplished.”
He offered no specifics, and made his initial remarks in response to a question from the panel’s moderator, Jeff Bartel.
Garfinkel said the plan involves no major changes to the architectural design unveiled last year, suggesting the $350 million price tag would be the same. Asked if the discussions involve a new approach to financing the construction, Garfinkel replied: “There are a lot of ways to skin the cat; we need to figure out a way to get it done, and we’re looking at a lot of different options on how to get that done.”
Garfinkel’s comments mostly amplify what owner Stephen Ross said in September when he announced Garfinkel’s hiring as the team’s top business executive. At the time, Ross said that he was prepared to “make my offer better” as he pursues stadium improvements.
The talk of a new stadium push comes as Ross searches for a new general manager after the abrupt departure of Jeff Ireland this week. The shake-up followed a disappointing 8-8 season, which was made even more bruising by the national media attention given bullying allegations among players. It also comes on the heels of Ross vowing political retribution for the lawmakers, including several in Miami-Dade, who opposed his plan to use state and county tax dollars to upgrade Sun Life.
Ross needed a change in Florida law to allow Miami-Dade to raise its hotel taxes to fund about $115 million of the $350 million project, with a new $3 million yearly state renovation subsidy funding $50 million. That would leave about $235 million from Ross and the NFL. Ross agreed to pay back the public’s share of the actual construction budget at the end of 30 years. While the Miami-Dade commission and Florida Senate backed the deal, it died in the House before county voters could consider it in a referendum.
As the Dolphins consider their next moves, two sports organizations are on the hunt for new deals with Miami-Dade. An investor group headed by soccer star David Beckham is pursuing a new Major League Soccer franchise that would play at a stadium on public land at PortMiami, while the Miami Heat is trying to extend a county deal that currently delivers its arena operation a $6.4 million yearly subsidy.