Miami-Dade County would pay the Miami Dolphins millions of dollars for hosting major sporting events in exchange for owner Stephen Ross delivering a $350 million renovation of Sun Life Stadium.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez sent the proposed deal to county commissioners Tuesday night for a vote early next week, bringing to a close a five-year effort by Ross to win public help for a stadium upgrade. After failing to win a hotel-tax increase last year and property-tax relief this year, Ross now has agreed to a series of incentive payments from Miami-Dade that would bring $4 million for a Super Bowl and $750,000 for an international soccer match.
The terms, outlined in a Gimenez memo, set up a novel bonus payment for the Dolphins, allowing the team to boost revenue for the international soccer matches and national college football championships that are already major draws at Sun Life. It also sets up a new stream of sports subsidies under a mayor who won election in 2011 partially thanks to a backlash against the 2009 Marlins Park funding plan.
Gimenez sees the Dolphins payment system as a fair trade for the economic lift and global publicity a Super Bowl or Bowl Championship Series game can bring.
“We feel there’s such a greater economic impact in our community from a Super Bowl, from a World Cup final, from a BCS final,” said Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández. “It benefits the community much more than the relatively small sum that is being paid out.”
The agreement would clear the way for a long-sought renovation of Sun Life, a 1987 facility the NFL has all but declared ineligible for a Super Bowl without an upgrade. A team source said the Dolphins plan to order construction materials in July and start work — including a partial canopy — as quickly as possible. The football season wouldn’t be interrupted by construction, and work is expected to be finished by late summer in 2016.
Ross, a New York real estate developer and Miami Beach High graduate with an estimated net worth of $5.7 billion, must wait for the county money. But the deal gives him quick access to a key revenue source: construction dollars the NFL provides franchises that can secure government help in stadium deals.
NFL owners last month gave advanced approval of the agreement, and ruled it would qualify for the league’s “G4” financing, which essentially allows an owner to divert league fees to pay back an NFL construction loan. The Dolphins also may qualify for a new state stadium subsidy worth $3 million a year.
Under the deal, Miami-Dade would pay the Dolphins a maximum of $5 million a year based on this bonus schedule:
• $4 million for a Super Bowl or World Cup finals match
• $3 million for a World Cup semi-final or a national college-football championship
• $2 million for a college play-off game
• $750,000 for an “international soccer match or other sporting event which attract significant tourists to Miami-Dade County with at least 55,000 Paid Tickets distributed.” A source close to the talks said the yearly Orange Bowl would not be eligible for a bonus payment.
In a statement issued late Tuesday, Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel said in part: “I think we've ended up in a place that incentivizes the substantial investment that Steve Ross is willing to make, while at the same time only paying after value has been delivered to Miami-Dade County.”
Gimenez aides spent Tuesday rushing to get the paperwork finalized in time for Tuesday’s commission meeting, and an agenda released in the evening showed the Dolphins deal slated for a vote. A quick decision would meet Gimenez’s stated goal of having all stadium deals done before he and commissioners shift to the larger annual budget debate amid warnings from the mayor of steep cuts in the police department, pay reductions across the bureaucracy, and an estimated revenue gap of $150 million.
Miami-Dade would use hotel taxes to pay the Dolphins, and the agreement includes a series of provisions designed to cushion that strained revenue source. Miami-Dade could defer all payments until 2024 in order to build up a hotel-tax reserve recently drained to ease the current crunch on property taxes.
The agreement also suspends payments if a tourism downturn leaves Miami-Dade without enough hotel taxes to pay its current obligations — including debt on Marlins Park, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and subsidies for local museums.
Privately, Gimenez aides and people close to the Dolphins said there was no plan for Miami-Dade to reduce its expense in hosting Super Bowl and other major events. A summary from the county’s budget office showed the county spent $4.7 million in cash grants and free police service on the 2010 Super Bowl, the last held in Miami Gardens.
The team’s main lobbyists in the negotiations were Al Dotson of Bilzin Sumberg and Brian May of Floridian Partners. One of May’s partners is Rodney Barreto, long-time chairman of the local Super Bowl host committee.
If he can get approval of the Dolphins deal Tuesday, Gimenez would have disposed of three stadium proposals in about a month. He started by endorsing a David Beckham soccer stadium on the Miami waterfront, provided Miami endorsed the plan. On Tuesday, city leaders rejected the proposal.
On June 3, commissioners approved a new subsidy package for the Miami Heat, who play at the county-owned AmericanAirlines Arena. Under that arrangement, the team’s current annual $6.4 million subsidy is offset by a $1 million donation to the county’s parks system through 2030, and then the subsidy increases to $8.5 million between 2031 and 2035.