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With spotlight on Miami-Dade, Broward County wary of a Super Bowl snub

As the Miami Dolphins push Miami-Dade County to raise hotel taxes in pursuit of Super Bowl 50, Broward County’s tourism industry may be fighting for some home-field advantage.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is pledging to base future championships in Miami-Dade if his proposed financing plan to renovate Sun Life Stadium gets approved, and he has come close to apologizing for the central role Broward played as host of the 2010 Super Bowl.

“We are the Miami Dolphins,” Ross said the day he proposed using $199 million in state and county dollars to fund half of the upgrades for the 25-year-old stadium. “We know the NFL headquarters will be in Miami. The last time it was in Broward, way before I got involved. I can tell you, it will be in Miami. That’s who is going to benefit.”

The pursuit of the 2016 Super Bowl looms large in the Dolphins’ effort to win Miami-Dade taxes for the upgrade, with team executives campaigning for a referendum in time for the May meeting when Ross and his fellow NFL owners award the 50th championship game. The push isn’t sitting well in Broward, which paid $2 million toward Super Bowl expenses in 2010 but now warns that local organizers can’t count on the money this time around.

“The news out of Miami-Dade County about what goes where and what may happen with the Super Bowl certainly doesn’t lend itself to Broward saying, ‘How can we participate?’ ” said Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, a county agency. “Why would we make a significant contribution to the host committee if we’re getting no Super Bowl events?”

Private sponsors fund the bulk of local Super Bowl budgets, which typically land between $12 million and $15 million, said Rodney Barreto, the longtime chairman of the region’s host committee for the games. In 2010, Miami-Dade paid $1.5 million to the committee, and its tax-funded tourism bureau paid about $400,000. Losing Broward’s contribution would mean more of an uphill climb for the committee’s fundraisers, though Broward would likely offer to pay something in order to participate in the bid.

All in the name

But the issue is a prickly one. In 2007, Miami-Dade lost top billing for local Super Bowls when the NFL changed the official host from “Miami” to “South Florida.” The regional brand continued in 2010, when Broward played host to the Super Bowl’s official media center, headquarters hotel and other official NFL events. An economic study funded by Barreto’s host committee put the 2010 game’s direct impact at $58 million in Broward compared to $40 million in Miami-Dade.

When the Dolphins in 2011 proposed changing state law to allow both Broward and Miami-Dade to raise hotel taxes to fund a Sun Life renovation, Broward commissioners berated the plan. Mike Dee, the team’s CEO, later warned the vote against the plan might cost Broward a role in future Super Bowl bids. And the Dolphins have hinted at a bigger shift south for spending tied to the NFL, with Dee telling Miami-Dade commissioners the team wouldn’t rule out moving its training facility out of Davie and into Miami-Dade as part of a financing deal.

On Thursday, a Dolphins spokesman was also non-committal on whether a 2016 Super Bowl might change back to “Miami” as the official host, rather than “South Florida.”

“That is really a host committee decision, not a team decision,” said Ric Katz, a Miami publicist representing the team in the stadium campaign. “I don’t think we can dictate the name of the committee.”

Of course, the host committee also plans where to house the official Super Bowl activities, which Ross and his representatives have pledged to keep out of Broward and in Miami-Dade. Miami appears to be the current pick for a Super Bowl hub if South Florida wins the bid, but Katz said the Dolphins expect businesses throughout the region to benefit from the game.

“The NFL is placing great emphasis on an urban experience, and the Miami Dolphins are seeing to it that the experience takes place in Miami,” Katz said. “No one is trying to deprive Broward hoteliers and restaurateurs a portion of the business.”

Barreto has said he expects the local Super Bowl brand to remain “South Florida,” and that was what landed on the mock-up Super Bowl L logo in January when his committee unveiled it during a ceremony in downtown Miami. Barreto’s in a tricky position, as he heads the committee that has relied on Broward to help subsidize Super Bowls but is also a leading advocate for the Dolphins as the team presses their case with Miami-Dade lawmakers. One of Barreto’s partners in a Coral Gables lobbying firm, Brian May, is a registered lobbyist for the Dolphins in the stadium push.

In an interview, Barreto suggested Broward would remain an official Super Bowl host.

“I believe that at the end of the day, Broward is a partner in this,” he said. “They could host different things. We’ve got to get creative. The reality is they’re going to benefit.”

But the Dolphins’ promise of a bigger Super Bowl payoff for Miami-Dade is finding a receptive audience among elected leaders.

Barbara Jordan, the Miami-Dade commissioner whose district includes Sun Life Stadium, emphasized that point when she sponsored a resolution last month endorsing the team’s tax plan. After private meetings with team executives, she told fellow commissioners that a Super Bowl won by a renovated stadium would be Dade’s alone.

“When we get that Super Bowl, all of the activities will be in Miami-Dade, and not be shared with any other community outside of Miami-Dade County,” she said before leading the commission in a 9-4 vote in favor of the resolution.

Bookings bonanza

No matter where the NFL opts to base its pre-game activities, Broward can count on a windfall of hotel bookings during Super Bowl.

With the NFL demanding advanced reservations for about 19,000 hotel rooms, Barreto’s group needs major commitments from both Broward and Miami-Dade hotels. Broward could play an even larger role if the Super Bowl overlaps with Miami’s annual boat show, which is held on one of the three weekends the NFL has proposed for the ’16 and ’17 games. Miami-Dade’s tourism director, William Talbert, warned publicly in November that “it’s not physically possible” for Miami-Dade to accommodate both events.

Talbert, president of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, did not respond to interview requests regarding the Super Bowl bid or the Dolphins’ tax plan.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his staff plan to negotiate a funding arrangement with the Dolphins that would probably go before county voters in May. State lawmakers also must approve allowing Miami-Dade’s hotel tax to climb to 7 percent from 6 percent, and also vote on a $3 million state subsidy for Sun Life the Dolphins want on top of the $2 million it already receives from Florida. Gimenez said he might require a Super Bowl award from the NFL before assigning hotel taxes to the Dolphins.

The Dolphins’ plan would raise the tax that guests at mainland Miami-Dade hotels pay from 13 cents on the dollar to 14 cents, when state and county sales taxes are added in. That matches the 14 percent average tax charged in the country’s 50 top hotel markets, according to the Global Business Travel Association, but would widen the gap between Miami-Dade and the 11 percent in taxes that Broward hotel guests pay.

Taxes make up a small part of the pricing gap between Broward and Miami-Dade, which has some of the highest hotel rates among the country’s top vacation markets. The typical Broward guest pays about 40 percent less per night on a hotel room than they would in Miami-Dade ($115 versus $165, according to Smith Travel Research).

Barreto’s group has until April 1 to submit South Florida’s formal bid for the 2016 and ’17 Super Bowls, which are scheduled to be awarded at the same May 22 meeting of NFL owners. San Francisco and the site of the 49ers’ new stadium, Santa Clara, are the only other finalist for ’16, and the loser will bid against Houston for the ’17 Super Bowl.