The employment packets at this Miami Gardens job fair had a little something extra: a pledge card to sign supporting a tax-funded renovation of Sun Life Stadium.
On Thursday, the Miami Dolphins opened up the stadium to hundreds of job seekers interested in working on a $350 million renovation project, which the team says it will only undertake with an infusion of tax dollars. Along with a chance to sign up to be considered for a renovation job, applicants were handed packets that included campaign literature for the tax plan, which must win approval by state lawmakers this week and then Miami-Dade voters in a May 14 referendum.
While team lobbyists are pushing to get the legislation through the House before the legislative session ends this weekend, the Dolphins’ political squad is building support for an election in which early voting is already underway. The Dolphins want to raise hotel taxes to 7 percent from 6 percent on most hotels outside Miami Beach and had hoped to create a new state renovation subsidy for stadiums that would give the team $3 million a year from Florida. Both revenue streams first must pass the state Legislature and then be approved by Miami-Dade voters.
At the heart of the campaign is the argument that a modernized stadium will be a boost to the county’s battered economy, particularly with the addition of hundreds if not thousands of construction jobs.
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Gene Eugene, 27, was the first in line for the event Thursday morning, arriving around 8 a.m. for a fair scheduled to start two hours later. Security wouldn’t let him walk past the stadium’s gate, so he stood on a grassy median as more applicants gathered behind him.
“I haven’t worked since 2010,’’ said Eugene, a Haitian immigrant who lives with an uncle in Miami. “I’ll take any job.”
Carmen Brown, 57, stood in the second spot behind him. She has been cleaning houses off and on but a drug problem kept her out of steady work since 2006. Now, she describes herself as recovered and hoping to find her way into a permanent job at the Dolphins’ event. “It’s pretty rough,’’ she said of hiring prospects in Miami-Dade. “Especially for someone like me.”
Once the fair began at 10, Brown found her way into a trailer set up by South Florida Workforce, a tax-funded employment board assembling a list of names to work on the Sun Life project if the Dolphins decide to go ahead with it. After filling out an electronic application, Brown was guided into Sun Life itself. There, workers greeted her with a folder that included a pro-stadium campaign flyer and a pledge card to support the stadium referendum.
The pledge card included a place for people to fill in their names, emails, phone numbers, and mailing addresses, along with a place for a signature. The applicants were not asked to fill out the cards there, but cards were included in handed-out folders that had information about the project.
A separate sheet explained to applicants on what to do next: by May 10, they’ll receive notice from South Florida Workforce that their information has been received, and on May 14, they should “get out and VOTE!”
Eric Jotkoff, a spokesman for the Dolphins’ campaign, said mixing the application process with the campaign information made sense.
“We are letting people know that the over 4,000 jobs created by the modernization obviously are dependant on the project moving forward,’’ he said. “It’s absolutely appropriate.”
Along with the potential construction jobs, the Dolphins also said they were filling between 400 and 700 jobs tied to current stadium operations — including ticket takers, parking attendants, and concession workers. The Dolphins plan a series of job fairs in the coming weeks, including in Hialeah, Kendall, Overtown, and Cutler Bay. The team estimated about 1,000 people turned out for the Thursday event, and that 130 people were hired for existing stadium jobs. Rick Beasley, head of South Florida Workforce, said Friday that 590 people registered for the job database at the event.
The Dolphins argue the higher hotel tax will bring back economic rewards beyond the temporary construction jobs, including attracting Super Bowls and major soccer events. The team would pay Miami-Dade up to $120 million in penalties 30 years from now if the stadium fails to host a certain amount of major events and also refund the county about $112 million of the tax money given to the stadium.
Critics see the team asking for a tax hike to benefit an NFL franchise owned by one of the wealthiest men in America, billionaire developer Stephen Ross.
Randolph Smith, 53, had mixed feelings on the debate as he waited in line to fill out an application. He last worked in the clean-up for Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey, where he traveled in search of employment. The Miami Gardens resident said he generally opposes giving public dollars to stadiums, but that he will vote yes on the Dolphins’ referendum so that Sun Life can stay competitive with other subsidized stadiums.
“I don’t agree with it,’’ he said. “But if we don’t vote yes, we’ll be dropping behind other cities.”