The Miami Dolphins ramped up their public campaign for a tax-funded stadium renovation this week, buying full-page ads against their top critic and trying to distance the plan from the unpopular Marlins deal.
The team bought an ad in Tuesday’s Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald knocking auto magnate Norman Braman’s criticism of the Sun Life Stadium deal, which would have Florida and Miami-Dade split the costs with owner Stephen Ross for a $400 million renovation. The Dolphins would pay at least $201 million, with taxpayers using state funds and a higher Miami-Dade hotel tax to pay $199 million.
In a fact sheet sent to media Tuesday morning, the Dolphins listed ways their deal differs from the 2009 Marlins deal. First: Ross, a billionaire real estate developer, would use private dollars to fund at least 51 percent of the Sun Life effort, compared to less than 25 percent from Marlins owner Jeff Loria. Second, Sun Life helps the economy more than the Marlins park does.
“Just because the Marlins did a bad deal doesn’t mean we should oppose a good deal where at least a majority of the cost is paid from private sources and more than 4,000 local jobs are created during construction alone,” the fact sheet states. And while the Dolphins’ Miami Gardens stadium has hosted two Super Bowls since 2007 and is in the running for the 2016 game, “Marlins Stadium does not generate the ability to attract world-class sports events -- other than a World Series from time to time depending on the success of the team.”
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NFL teams play eight home games a year if they don’t make the playoffs, while baseball teams have 81.
Miami and Miami-Dade built the Marlins a $640 million stadium at the site of the Dolphins’ old home at the Orange Bowl in Little Havana. The Marlins contributed about $120 million and agreed to pay between $2.5 million and $4.9 million a year for 35 years to pay back $35 million of debt the county borrowed for the stadium. As a publicly owned stadium, the Marlins ballpark pays no property taxes. Most of the public money came from Miami-Dade hotel taxes, along with $50 million of debt tied to the county’s general fund.
Sun Life is privately owned and pays $3 million a year in property taxes to Miami-Dade. It currently receives $2 million a year from Florida’ s stadium program, a subsidy tied to converting the football venue to baseball in the 1990s when the Marlins played there. The Dolphins also paid for a second full-page ad with quotes from leading hoteliers in Miami-Dade endorsing the stadium plan. Among them: Donald Trump, whose company recently purchased the Doral golf resort. “Steve Ross’ commitment to modernize Sun Life Stadium -- while covering most of the construction costs -- is the right thing for Miami-Dade,’’ the ad quotes Trump as saying.
Also on Tuesday, Ross and team CEO Mike Dee sent a letter to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and county commissioners requesting negotiations over the stadium deal. The letter said the deal Ross unveiled last week is a “baseline for debate” and asked for talks. The letter also urged the commission to adopt a resolution proposed by Commissioner Barbara Jordan endorsing the state bill that would allow taxes for Sun Life. The resolution is on the agenda for Wednesday’s commission meeting.
In its ad against Braman, the Dolphins knock the former Philadelphia Eagles owner for inviting public dollars for that team’s stadium before selling it in 1994. A Twitter account the Dolphins created tout the stadium plan, @miamifirst, also circulated a video created by Philadelphia media naming Braman one of the city’s top “villains” for skimping on player payroll while an owner.
The ad also refutes what the Dolphins say are misstatements by Braman in interviews about the Miami Gardens stadium plan. “You are entitled to your own opinion, Mr. Braman, but not your own facts,” the ad states.
One point cited in the ad is Braman arguing hotel taxes should be spent on the Miami Beach Convention Center, not a stadium. The ad notes Florida law restricts use of the tax in the stadium bill to sports facilities. That is true, but the Dolphins are proposing to change state law to increase that particular tax. The convention center could receive funds from a similar hotel tax that is kept at the same rate in the Dolphins bill.
Braman said Tuesday the ad was a sign of “how desperate” the Dolphins are in pushing for government help. Media reports at the time show Philadelphia granted the previous Eagles owner money to build skyboxes as a way to keep the team from moving. Braman said the city eventually got its money back in the deal through suite revenues. The only time Braman said he requested city help was when he offered to build a new stadium on city land.
“This is part of a very orchestrated effort by the Dolphins to get what they want,’’ Braman said of the advertisement. “They can say whatever they want. [The Dolphins plan] is still welfare for a billionaire.” He urged a referendum on the proposed deal. “All they have to do is let the people vote,’’ he said.