In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Dolphins’ stadium deal a little more palatable than Marlins’

Rendering released Tuesday by the Miami Dolphins showing planned renovations for Sun Life Stadium, including a partial roof.
Rendering released Tuesday by the Miami Dolphins showing planned renovations for Sun Life Stadium, including a partial roof.
Jeff Davis / Courtesy the Miami Dolphins
WEB VOTE In a plan approved by the Miami-Dade Commission, the Miami Dolphins will pay to renovate Sun Life Stadium in exchange for the county paying the team, from hotel taxes, $4 million for a Super Bowl, $3 million for a college football championship and $750,000 for other special sports events. Like the deal?

It was that same feeling, not quite triumphant, you experience after buying an overpriced new car while resisting the smarmy pitch to pay extra for undercoating or pumping the tires full of nitrogen.

The Dolphins stuck us, for sure. But it didn't feel like we got diddled. That’s about as good as it gets in a stadium deal.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez called the stadium renovation agreement “performance-based.” The team still gets a sizable chunk of taxpayer money but through payoffs contingent on what extracurricular events the team lures to the stadium most of us still call Joe Robbie. (If I knew what a Sun Life was, it might be different.)

A SuperBowl or a World Cup championship rates a $4 million payoff. Works down from there. Wrestlemania rings up $750,000 in taxpayer subsidies. (After an influx of wrestling fans, county officials might be inclined to pay the Dolphins $750,000 for every subsequent year they don't host Wrestlemania.)

“I guess you can file this under ‘it could be worse,’ ” Neil deMause wrote in his blog after the county commissioners approved the Dolphins deal. That amounts to high praise from deMause, author of “Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit.” He added up potential big events rewards and state sales rebates and figured the team would pocket about $100 million in public subsidies. “This is pretty close to the amount that [owner Stephen] Ross was asking for in previous renovation funding plans, and also pretty close to what other cities are giving their football teams in order to extend their commitment to remain in town.”

More importantly, “performance funding” is much less vulgar than the adjectives employed for a certain previous stadium deal approved by the Miami-Dade Commission.

After the 7-4 vote in favor of the Dolphins proposal Tuesday, it wasn’t like before. It didn’t feel like waking groggy and confused in a dingy hotel room, your wallet missing, realizing the babe you met at the bar the night before slipped you a roofie. It wasn’t like that rendezvous with the Marlins.

But I guess we owe something to our slutty baseball team, else we might be buying Stephen Ross a billion dollar replica of Texas Stadium and David Beckham a waterside soccer palace in downtown Miami. The Marlins deal (Forbes Magazine called it “baseball’s most expensive stadium disaster.”) was so abhorrent to taxpayers – costing the county $2.4 billion by the time construction bonds are paid off – that it has loomed over subsequent ballpark talks like a specter.

Commissioner Barbara Jordan noted that money due the Dolphins will come from hotel taxes. Hoteliers and economists must have cringed when she called that “other people's money.”

But “performance funding” and “other people’s money” provided enough sweeteners to make the notion of giving millions to a billionaire team owner palatable.

It certainly felt better than that last stadium affair. Though after that abusive affair with the Marlins, maybe the Dolphins just caught us on the rebound.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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