The Miami Dolphins plan to abandon their push for tax relief in favor of asking Miami-Dade to pay the team for recruiting Super Bowl and other major events to a renovated Sun Life Stadium, county Mayor Carlos Gimenez confirmed Tuesday.
“It’s kind of similar to what we do when we try to bring companies” to Miami-Dade, Gimenez said. “You perform, you get something.”
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross had been negotiating with Miami-Dade, the school system and Miami Gardens to have the county take over ownership of the stadium, which would free the team of a yearly property-tax bill worth nearly $4 million. The Dolphins are Miami Gardens’ top taxpayer, and the team faced resistance from both the city’s mayor and the superintendent of the county school system, which receives about $1 million yearly in Sun Life taxes.
Details of the new plan weren’t available Tuesday. The broad outline of the plan is that Ross would use private dollars for a $350 million renovation of the stadium, and Miami-Dade would then pay the team for each major event the stadium brings. Those events would include Super Bowls, World Cup soccer, large international soccer matches, and national college championship and play-off games. Sources close to the talks said the Dolphins are also proposing that major concerts be eligible for bonus payments, pointing to the large number of tourists who flew in for last summer’s sold-out performance at Sun Life by Justin Timberlake and Jay Z.
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Gimenez said the money would come from county hotel taxes, the same dollars that currently subsidize the Miami Heat and pay the debt on Marlins Park. He declined to say how large the payments might be, but described them as modest compared to the kind of spending a Super Bowl can bring. “It’s a small incentive based on economic impact,” he said.
Gimenez publicly supported tax-relief for the Dolphins when Ross first proposed the deal earlier this year, but said the team would have to minimize or eliminate the impact on county schools and Miami Gardens. Schools chief Alberto Carvalho had raised doubts about the plan in public statements, as did Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert. Even so, both the school system and Miami Gardens were said to be in talks with the Dolphins over a compromise before Ross opted to pursue a different strategy.
In an interview, Gilbert said the Dolphins were unlikely to win support for a plan that reduced the team’s property-tax bill in Miami-Dade. “I don’t think there is the will for that.”
The change by Ross comes as David Beckham backed off his pursuit of PortMiami for a new soccer stadium in favor of a downtown site, and as the Miami Heat said it would take lower subsidies than the team first proposed in renegotiating its current operating agreement at the county-owned AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Dolphins and the Beckham deals may intersect, since the University of Miami may want to move from Sun Life to the proposed soccer stadium, which would be closer to its Coral Gables campus. Ross has a long-term lease with UM to play football at Sun Life, and the contract could give him an extra bargaining chip with Gimenez, who is pushing for the soccer stadium.
Gimenez said he discussed UM’s lease with Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel. “I asked the question: What would it take” to get UM out of the lease? Gimenez said. “My interest in that is because there has been talk of UM using that soccer facility. It is no secret that Sun Life doesn’t work for their students very well.”
The UM move is a sensitive topic for the Beckham negotiators, since the college football team would require a stadium that could be double the size of the proposed 20,000-seat soccer facility. Having UM aboard would bring Beckham the school’s political muscle as his team faces a Miami referendum over the proposed stadium, and also an additional stream of revenue for a stadium promised to host fewer than two dozen Major League Soccer games a year.
A stadium for UM “would be a different proposition than what we discussed with the mayors” of Miami and Miami-Dade, said John Alschuler, a Beckham real estate consultant and registered lobbyist. Before bringing on UM, “we would all have to regroup.” A UM spokeswoman said the school had no comment on the potential stadium move.
News of the Dolphins’ new Sun Life proposal also comes as NFL owners on Tuesday chose Minneapolis as the host of the 2018 Super Bowl, a tacit reward for construction of a $1 billion stadium that is being partially funded by tax dollars. The vote means Miami Gardens would need to wait until at least 2019 to host a Super Bowl.
Dolphins executives briefed NFL owners on the funding plan at a league meeting in Atlanta Tuesday. A source familiar with the proceedings said owners endorsed the arrangement as qualifying for the public dollars that are required for the league’s stadium-financing program. Known as “G4,” the program lets NFL owners pay part of a stadium project with dollars that a franchise otherwise pays to the league.
The Dolphins new plan is sure to revive the debate of a major sport event’s economic impact, and how much government spending it can justify. NFL executives tout a Super Bowl’s spending infusion, and cite studies showing the game’s local economic impact approaches $500 million.
Local governments typically contribute money and free services to the Super Bowl, which also brings significant fund-raising obligations by local organizers. In 2010, South Florida’s last Super Bowl, Miami-Dade estimated it contributed about $4.7 million to the game, including $2 milllion in police payroll and $1.5 million in cash, according to a summary by the county’s finance department. Broward contributed $2 million. For the 2016 Super Bowl, organizers in South Florida said they planned to raise about $20 million for the festivities if Miami had landed the game, which instead went to the new stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Miami Herald staff writer Adam Beasley and Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.