The Miami Dolphins said Thursday they won’t use county hotel-tax dollars to finance renovations to Sun Life Stadium unless the NFL awards South Florida the 50th or 51st Super Bowl.
Even if Miami-Dade voters approve the funding in a potential May referendum, their decision would be moot if, days later, South Florida does not win Super Bowl L, to be held in 2016, or Super Bowl LI, in 2017.
The decision marks the latest concession from the Dolphins as they seek political support for state and county taxes to upgrade their Miami Gardens football stadium and add an open-air canopy. The team says the renovations are necessary to attract national college football title games and Super Bowls — particularly the showcase 50th game, which South Florida is vying for along with the San Francisco area.
The Dolphins’ proposal has received approval in quick succession from several committees in the Florida Legislature but has not been considered by the full House or Senate. The team wants legislative and voter approval by May 22, when NFL owners will award the two Super Bowls.
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Dolphins CEO Mike Dee announced the team’s position to make county funding contingent on a Super Bowl award after returning from NFL owners meetings in Phoenix, a sign that a majority of owners support South Florida’s bid for one of the two big games.
“I can’t tell you which one that will be, but I can tell you that we’re confident that vote is going to go our way,” Dee said in a news conference.
The Super Bowl award condition would technically apply only to county hotel taxes and not to the state sales-tax subsidy the Dolphins are also seeking. But the team has pitched both sources of funding as part of a single deal, so if one stream of money were to go away, the whole plan would likely fall apart.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez first raised the possibility of making any county funding conditional on a Super Bowl last month, when the Dolphins agreed to his referendum request.
“I don’t want to be eligible for anything,” the mayor said at the time. “I’d like to see the results and actually land something.”
Dee characterized the Super Bowl condition as a “risk” for the team. He rejected suggestions that the agreement is an attempt by the time-pressed Dolphins to prod ongoing negotiations with Gimenez over a potential funding deal.
Gimenez, Dee and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross met for nearly six hours at County Hall last Friday night. Dee would not say Thursday whether they discussed the Super Bowl award condition at that meeting.
On Thursday, Gimenez asked the Florida Division of Elections to opine on whether the Dolphins could pay for the potential referendum, which the county elections department estimates would cost $3 million to $5 million.
Gimenez had said Miami-Dade would have to bear the expense because an existing state opinion from the 1980s prohibited private entities from funding elections. But in his request to Maria Mathews, head of the elections division in Tallahassee, Gimenez also noted that state law was amended in 1992 to require pari-mutuels to indirectly defray elections costs by depositing an equal sum with the county.
“I do not believe ... that the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County should be forced to shoulder the costs (estimated between $3 million to $5 million) of this election brought about by a request from a private party,” he wrote. “I therefore intend to require the Miami Dolphins organization to pay for the costs of such an election.”
Racetracks indirectly reimbursed Miami-Dade and Broward counties for nearly $7 million spent on a special gambling election in 2005. Several Miami-Dade commissioners have said the Dolphins should pay for the referendum.
A Dolphins spokesman would not say Thursday if the team would be willing to cover the election costs.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” spokesman Eric Jotkoff said.
Before any referendum could take place, Florida lawmakers must approve legislation allowing the county to raise mainland hotel taxes to 7 percent from 6 percent and providing the Dolphins with an additional, $3 million annual state-tax subsidy.
Under the Dolphins’ initial proposal, owner Ross said private funds would cover just over half of the renovations, with public funds covering the rest. Gimenez said the team’s plan has changed significantly since negotiations began, although neither side has provided details.
Dee announced the Super Bowl award condition along with Rodney Barreto, chair of the South Florida Super Bowl Committee and a vocal Dolphins backer, who pledged that the “core” of any 50th or 51st Super Bowl activities would take place in downtown Miami. The last time Sun Life Stadium hosted a Super Bowl, in 2010, most official NFL activities took place in neighboring Broward.
“You’re going to look for basically the mouth of the [Miami] River north to the Adrienne Arsht Center” for the Performing Arts, Barreto said. He added that the committee has recruited four unnamed event-planning and hosting companies to put together “an incredible production in downtown Miami, the likes that no one’s ever seen before.”
Last week, Barreto’s committee rejected an NFL request to exempt league employees from paying local hotel taxes in exchange for landing a Super Bowl — unlike South Florida’s rival for the 50th game: Santa Clara, Calif., where a $1.2 billion stadium is being built for the San Francisco 49ers.