Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Monday he may require the NFL to award South Florida a Super Bowl as a condition for spending county hotel taxes on part of a $400 million renovation of Sun Life Stadium.
Gimenez and the Miami Dolphins announced they have agreed to let county voters decide whether to use local tax dollars for an upgrade of the team’s stadium and would rush a referendum to be held before the May meeting when NFL owners will award the 2016 and ’17 Super Bowls. Gimenez suggested that, even if the ballot item passes, he may design the measure to grant county leaders the option of withholding the tax funds if NFL owners snub South Florida.
“I don’t want to be eligible for anything,” Gimenez said. “I’d like to see the results and actually land something.”
In floating his proposal, Gimenez sought to flip the typical scenario in which the NFL warns that without public dollars for a stadium upgrade, a community risks losing out on the economic boost that a Super Bowl brings. Instead, Gimenez proposed saying to the NFL: Award Miami-Dade a Super Bowl or risk not getting tax dollars for a stadium upgrade.
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The concept seeemed to bring a quick thumbs-down from the NFL on Monday afternoon, with spokesman Greg Aiello writing in an email: “A provisional award in May [by NFL owners] for the 2016 or 2017 Super Bowl is impractical and the request would not enhance South Florida’s chances in a very competitive situation.”
On Monday night, Aiello called to retract the statement, saying it was based on an inaccurate description of Gimenez’s plan as provided by The Miami Herald. He said Dolphins executives vetted his statement before it was released, but that it was based on the idea of the stadium referendum being held after the NFL owners meet in May — a timetable Gimenez did not describe in the press conference attended by top Dolphins executives.
“If the bid is presented and there is no stadium renovation financing plan approved, then the statement I gave earlier stands,” Aiello said in an interview Monday night. “If you’re saying the mayor’s plan is [that] financing would be in place, and there are no further votes and approvals needed, and all that is needed is the Super Bowl to be awarded, that is a totally different scenario. I would not describe that as hurting their chances.”
Gimenez was not available for comment on the NFL’s response.
On May 22, NFL owners are set to decide between Miami Gardens and the San Francisco area for the 2016 Super Bowl. The loser will take on Houston for the 2017 Super Bowl, but the ’16 championship is considered the bigger prize since it is the 50th game.
Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said the team would welcome the referendum — reversing the club’s initial position that there was not enough time for one between the team’s January unveiling of its financing proposal and the looming Super Bowl decision.
“We believe a decision by the voters will go our way,” Dee said, citing internal polling and support from various community groups, including the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. Miami-Dade commissioners voted last month to endorse the team’s financing plan, which relies on a new annual $3 million stadium subsidy from the state and raising the county’s mainland hotel taxes to 7 percent, from the current 6.
The Dolphins need a change in state law for both pools of public money. Facing a tax-averse state Legislature and a Miami-Dade legislative delegation that left the stadium measure off its list of 2013 priorities, the team sees the referendum concession as key to getting the legislation passed.
“We’ve got great momentum there now,” Dee said of Tallahassee. “Early feedback since this news broke over the weekend has been enormously positive. This should put this legislation, we hope, on the fast track.”
Under the Dolphins’ plan, state lawmakers would still need to approve the change in state law allowing the higher hotel tax and Florida subsidy. But only the hotel-tax change would be contingent on a Miami-Dade referendum, Dolphins lobbyist Ron Book said Monday.
State Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, a Miami Democrat, issued a statement after Monday’s announcement calling the referendum a “positive” move, though he said other concerns remain.
“While Miami-Dade voters would weigh in on a new hotel tax, they would not be allowed to weigh in on added state subsidies, which are also part of the proposal,” Rodríguez noted.
Gimenez said he would not call for a referendum until he has approved a financing deal with the Dolphins. “We haven’t started negotiations. It doesn’t mean a deal is going to be done,” Gimenez said.
At least three county commissioners have called for team owner Stephen Ross to pay for the special election, which Gimenez said would cost between $3 million and $4 million. Gimenez said state law prohibits a private company from funding an election, though racetracks indirectly reimbursed Broward and Miami-Dade counties for the nearly $7 million spent on a special election on gambling in ’05.
“Ross absolutely should be paying for this election,’’ Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo said Monday. “Is it fair for taxpayers to be asked to do this, in a timetable that is so crunched now?”
Ross, who recently signed a letter of intent to co-develop Miami’s Watson Island, was on a business trip in Brazil on Monday and did not attend the press conference. Except for a press conference in January, the billionaire real-estate developer has left the public campaign to Dee, who made the Dolphins’ case at a recent Florida Senate hearing and before county commissioners. The Dolphins have gathered backing for the proposal in recent weeks from business groups, including the Associated Builders and Contractors and Doral Business Council on Monday.
Without a special election, the Dolphins would have to wait until August 2014 to let voters endorse the stadium plan. The county needs 60 days’ notice for a referendum, meaning the language for a May vote must be approved by commissioners in March.
Miami Herald staff writer Adam H. Beasley contributed to this report.