Miami Dolphins, county close on stadium upgrade deal

06/07/2014 12:00 AM

06/07/2014 12:28 AM

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the Miami Dolphins are close to a deal under which the NFL team would finance a $400 million upgrade to Sun Life Stadium and the county would pay the franchise a fee for bringing in major sporting events like the Super Bowl.

Gimenez, who huddled with team officials for several hours Friday, is expected to work on nailing down the agreement over the weekend. He said in a statement issued Friday evening that he would announce details as soon as they’re finalized.

The mayor said the county and the team are “close to agreeing to a deal” that needs approval from the county commission. The money for the county payments would come from tourist taxes, he added.

The agreement would cap a multi-year campaign by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross for public assistance in renovating his 27-year-old stadium, something he has argued is essential in order to attract future Super Bowl contests. The long-contemplated overhaul includes installation of new seats, new video screens, lighting and sound systems, and an open canopy to shield fans from sun and rain.

The Dolphins first floated their new proposal late last month, after abandoning a push to turn the stadium over to the county in exchange for relief from an annual property-tax bill of about $4 million. That idea met strong resistance from the stadium’s home city of Miami Gardens and the Miami-Dade schools superintendent.

Under the plan now being discussed, the county would pay the Dolphins out of tourist taxes for Super Bowls, championship and semifinal games for the new college football playoffs, and soccer matches that draw large crowds. Concerts were initially on the table, but it’s unclear whether they’re still in the deal.

The fee under discussion for each Super Bowl that comes to Sun Life is expected to be between $3 million and $5 million. There may be an annual cap on the county payments.

Gimenez referred to the payments as “incentives’’ in his statement, and said the Dolphins would receive the fees only after the events have taken place.

The mayor told Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS4 on Friday that he expects to have a deal ready for county commissioners to vote on “in a couple of weeks.’’

CBS4 reporter Jim DeFede asked Gimenez whether he had been wrong to call Ross’ last proposal for tax relief the best deal possible for the county.

Replied Gimenez: “I’m just more right this time.’’

A team spokesman could not be reached for comment.

If Gimenez can close on the Dolphins deal, it would mark the second major agreement for public assistance that the mayor — who was elected in part because of voter outrage over subsidies for the Miami Marlins ballpark in Little Havana — has concluded with a local pro sports team.

News of the impending Dolphins deal comes just three days after the Miami-Dade commission easily approved a new Gimenez-brokered lease deal with the Miami Heat for the county-owned AmericanAirlines Arena. The county will now subsidize the team’s home court for five additional years in exchange for an annual $1 million donation to Miami-Dade’s parks department.

The $6.4 million in hotel taxes that Miami-Dade currently pays the Heat annually as an operating subsidy would continue as planned until the end of the current deal in 2030, then rise to $8.5 million a year for the extra five years tacked on.

Gimenez has also pursued a deal with a new Major League Soccer team backed by retired English footballer David Beckham that’s seeking public land for a new privately financed stadium. After a plan to put the stadium on an unused corner of PortMiami drew opposition from Royal Caribbean Cruises, Gimenez made a second, controversial proposal to put the stadium in Miami’s waterfront Museum Park. That plan would require filling in a deep-water slip and encroaching into the new park, which is opening next week.

Gimenez had publicly supported the tax-relief idea for the Dolphins when Ross first proposed the deal earlier this year, but the mayor said the team would have to minimize or eliminate the fiscal impact on county schools and Miami Gardens.

The NFL spurned Ross’ application for the 50th anniversary Super Bowl after he failed to get the Florida Legislature to approve a referendum to ask Miami-Dade voters to finance the upgrade directly.

The new agreement could revive debates over the economic impact of sporting events, and to what extent they merit public subsidies.

NFL executives tout studies that claim that the Super Bowl’s local economic impact approaches $500 million, but economists have disputed the figure.

In 2010, South Florida’s last Super Bowl, Miami-Dade estimated it contributed about $4.7 million to the game, including $2 million in police payroll and $1.5 million in cash, according to a summary by the county’s finance department. Broward contributed $2 million.

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