Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Thursday night that negotiations with the Miami Dolphins over public funds to renovate Sun Life Stadium are “not far apart,” though the two sides had yet to finalize a deal when the session broke up early Friday morning.
“They have said what they needed and I have said ... what I am willing to give,” Gimenez said when he ducked out of the County Hall talks that would stretch past midnight. “We are not far apart.”
By midnight, Gimenez had returned but said more talks would be needed to reach a compromise with the Dolphins. "We're no closer to a deal than we were when they walked in,'' Gimenez told CBS4. Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said discussions would continue Friday.
"We made a lot of progress,'' Dee said.
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A deal between Gimenez and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is crucial as the Dolphins look to schedule a referendum next month to approve raising hotel taxes to help pay for a nearly $400 million upgrade to the 1987 stadium.
Dee went into a closed-door meeting with Gimenez at 3 p.m. Thursday. The mayor, who had a prior engagement, left shortly after 7 p.m., leaving his deputies and Dee behind to continue the discussions. Gimenez eventually returned to County Hall and the talks lasted until about 1 a.m. Friday, CBS reported.
The Dolphins are asking for $3 million a year from Florida and increasing mainland hotel taxes in Miami-Dade to 7 percent from 6 percent to fund about 43 percent of a $390 million renovation of Sun Life. Ross would use private dollars to pay for the rest.
Gimenez said a sticking point in the talks continues to be what portion of the hotel taxes would go to the Dolphins.
“That’s a big issue,” he acknowledged, otherwise calling it a “very simple deal.”
Dee said he met earlier in the day with two Gimenez aides — Ed Marquez, a deputy mayor who heads the finance department, and Gerald Heffernan, an assistant county attorney — on some of the financing details for a plan that would include a 30-year agreement by the Dolphins to remain in Miami Gardens.
“It is a complicated partnership when you are looking at a 30-year nonrelocation agreement,” Dee told reporters before the meeting. “You want to get it right.”
Dee was accompanied Thursday afternoon by team lobbyist Brian May. Kendall Coffey, a Miami lawyer reportedly drafting referendum language for the Dolphins, entered the mayor’s suite shortly after Dee did.
Dee cited momentum in Tallahassee — two committees this week endorsed the bill needed for the stadium subsidies — and said he was confident of success with county leaders.
“We are making great progress, and hopefully there will be another step here,” he said. “This is a process that is advancing. Time is short. But we are confident we can get a deal done in time for a referendum in May.”
The Dolphins are pressing for approval in time for Sun Life to be considered for the 50th Super Bowl in 2016, which an NFL spokesman said Thursday would be awarded by league owners on May 21.
Gimenez said this week a deal is possible, and County Hall insiders privately say the tentative plan is for a special County Commission meeting on Tuesday to schedule the countywide vote in May. Gimenez said he wants commissioners to have at least two days to review any deal.
Crucial to that timeline is a pending opinion from the Florida division of elections, whom Gimenez asked to weigh in on whether the Dolphins can reimburse the county for the special election. The referendum is expected to cost between $3 million and $5 million.
Without that opinion in hand, Gimenez hinted the vote could be delayed past May 21.
“If I don’t get that letter, then we’re not going to move that fast,” Gimenez said Thursday night. “If we have to wait for that, we’ll wait for that.”
Whatever the final deal, Gimenez said the county will not borrow money or be on the hook for any debt taken on by the Dolphins — a key point for the mayor, who as commissioner opposed the public financing plan for the new Miami Marlins stadium.
“This is not going to be like that deal over there,” Gimenez said, pointing to Marlins Park from the windows of the 29th floor at County Hall. “It is a completely different animal, and we are not going to finance anything.”
Brian Andrews of CBS4 contributed to this report.