Miami-Dade commissioners want mayor to negotiate with Miami Heat on arena deal

01/22/2014 8:00 AM

01/22/2014 7:06 PM

The Miami Heat and Miami-Dade County have been in talks since 2012 to extend the team’s agreement to play at AmericanAirlines Arena. But some county commissioners think the negotiations should speed up.

On Wednesday, the commission voted unanimously to direct Mayor Carlos Gimenez to sit down with the Heat, whose executives are seeking a 10-year extension of the deal that lets the team play at the arena and receive about $6.5 million a year in hotel taxes to subsidize operations.

The agreement doesn’t expire until 2029, but the Heat has been trying to capitalize on its back-to-back championships to extend the terms until 2039 in exchange for a significant upgrade to the 14-year-old arena.

“They’ve gone back and forth, but things have not finalized,” said Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, who sponsored the measure “to bring an ending to this.”

His resolution initially said the administration should “finalize” negotiations by Feb. 22. But commissioners removed that word from the proposal, essentially only asking the administration to negotiate in earnest.

Gimenez’s staff offered no new details on the ongoing negotiations. A team lobbyist said late last year that the new deal could require up to $17 million in new public subsidies to pay for renovations for the team’s home to keep up with NBA standards.

Heat owner Micky Arison bankrolled construction of the $360 million arena in exchange for the existing agreement, which requires the team to give the county 40 percent of its arena profits above $14 million. The team cut its first check to the county, for $257,134, in November.

There has been no rush into the negotiations on the part of the county, which lived last year through feverish negotiations with the Miami Dolphins for public dollars in exchange for a canopy and other renovations at Sun Life Stadium. That plan hit a wall with the Florida Legislature. Polls, and a tally of early ballots cast before a special election was canceled, showed the plan was foundering.

For the Heat, however, now is the time to make the most of the good will that comes from winning. Team star LeBron James could opt out of his contract and become a free agent at the end of this season.

“Somehow it seems like we’re trying to rush this, and there is no rush,” Commissioner Juan C. Zapata said. “We’re supportive of the basketball team from a sports perspective, but I think we still have a responsibility to the community to deal with this as it is, which is a business transaction.”

Still, he and all of his colleagues voted for Barreiro’s proposal, which allows the administration to spend up to $50,000 to hire an outside consultant to walk the county through the negotiations.

Several commissioners disagreed with that provision. But others noted Miami-Dade brought in help to deal with the Dolphins and, earlier, with the Marlins when they negotiated a new ballpark.

“We want to make sure that what’s in the proposal that we bring forward to you has the best thinking” of other deals across the country, Deputy Mayor Jack Osterholt said.

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