Each day, the Miami Dolphins literally count down the seconds until the meeting in late May when the NFL decides where to play the 2016 Super Bowl. The suspense may be team owner Stephen Ross’ best political weapon in winning about $200 million in government dollars for a stadium renovation.
On miamifirst.com, which the Dolphins launched as the online headquarters for their stadium campaign, a ticker in the top corner tracks the days, hours and seconds until May 22, when Ross’ fellow NFL owners are expected to decide between South Florida and San Francisco for the 50th Super Bowl.
The Dolphins and their backers claim the extra dollars that will come from the milestone Super Bowl justifies quick approval of $199 million in government money for a stadium renovation — leaving no time for the extended negotiations or referendum that skeptics of the deal want.
“There is a lot of pressure … to react in a very, very quick way,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr., who last week voted against a resolution endorsing the Dolphins’ financing plan. “It should have been discussed for months before we got to this point.”
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Commissioners approved the resolution nine days after the Dolphins unveiled a plan to spend at least $201 million in private dollars on a $400 million renovation. The rest would come from a new $3 million yearly state subsidy to Sun Life and from raising Miami-Dade hotel taxes, which would generate at least $9 million a year under current conditions.
A bill allowing both changes is set for its first hearing in Tallahassee on Tuesday, two days after Sunday’s Super Bowl in New Orleans. If the bill passes, county commissioners would have to vote again to raise mainland hotel taxes to 7 percent from 6 percent to fund the stadium renovations.
The May 22 deadline comes thanks to a schedule set by the NFL, an association governed by its 32 teams. In October, the NFL announced San Francisco and South Florida as the two areas allowed to compete for the 50th game. The contest has played well to the Dolphins’ argument for a stadium upgrade, given the $1.2 billion stadium being built near San Francisco in time for the ’16 game.
NFL teams have long used Super Bowl as a potential reward for communities funding stadium construction. But Super Bowl L in 2016 presents a special case for South Florida, which vies with New Orleans for holding the most Super Bowls in NFL history.
Dolphins executives say a stadium upgrade will preserve South Florida’s Super Bowl edge for years to come, so a stadium plan approved after May would presumably make the region a strong contender for Super Bowls after 2016. But team executives say a delay would probably cost South Florida the benefits that come with the 50th game.
“The NFL’s going to put a lot into it,’’ said Rodney Barreto, the longtime chair of the Super Bowl host committee and whose partner in a Coral Gables firm, Brian May, also lobbies for the Dolphins. “It’s going to be a year-round celebration. It’s their anniversary.”
Super Bowl L isn’t the only argument the Dolphins have made for the $400 million renovation package. They also see a renovated stadium helping attract soccer games and other major events, as well as beefing-up stadium amenities enough to keep the stadium a viable NFL home for at least 25 more years.
But as the Dolphins pursue tax dollars for the third time in four years, they’re citing the 2016 game as the need for a quick decision. Asked about a possible referendum on the Dolphins’ tax plans at the Jan. 14 unveiling, Ross replied: “They’re going to be voting for the Super Bowl in May of this year and there’s no possibility of that happening.”
Robert Baade, an economics professor at Lake Forest College in Chicago, sees expectations for the 50th game as amplifying the NFL’s already inflated case for a Super Bowl’s economic impact.
“Logically, why would anybody think that?’’ Baade said of the 50th-game boost. “Maybe the NFL has a bigger party than normal … But we’re talking about nibbling at the edges. Who are they going to invite? The heads of state from all over the world? I just can’t imagine what it is they could do that would make a meaningful difference” to the economy.
A NFL spokesman was not available for interviews about the 2016 game.
While organizers claim a Super Bowl brings as much as $400 million to a local economy, Baade’s research sees the game’s boost topping out at $90 million each year. It’s probably closer to about $40 million for a destination that’s already popular in the winter, he said. New Orleans is suspending Mardis Gras festivities to host the Super Bowl this Sunday, while the big game falls at the peak of tourism season in South Florida.
In fact, Miami-Dade’s tourism director has warned there aren’t enough hotel rooms to accommodate Super Bowl if it falls on the same weekend as the Miami Boat Show in 2016, one of three weekends proposed by the NFL for the 50th game.
Even so, the tourism bureau asked large hotels to set aside 90 percent of their rooms for the NFL during Boat Show weekend in 2016, hoteliers said this week. South Florida’s Super Bowl bid package is due in April.
Tourism leaders say they’re eager to win the 50th Super Bowl, in part because of the attention and cachet that will come with being chosen for the milestone game.
“There is charm and magic in the 50th celebration of anything,’’ said Nicki Grossman, Broward’s tourism director. “It’s the intention of the NFL to make that a grand Super Bowl. The Super Bowl of Super Bowls until they hit 100.”
Miami Herald staff writer Adam Beasley contributed to this report from New Orleans.