Miami-Dade County

Miami Dolphins win last-minute boost to county subsidy package worth up to $58 million

Dan Marino laughs at a conversation between Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, center, and Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel after the county commission approved an expanded subsidy deal for the team in exchange for moving its training and headquarters facility from Davie to a new complex in Miami Gardens costing as much as $75 million to build.
Dan Marino laughs at a conversation between Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, center, and Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel after the county commission approved an expanded subsidy deal for the team in exchange for moving its training and headquarters facility from Davie to a new complex in Miami Gardens costing as much as $75 million to build. dhanks@miamiherald.com

Dan Marino, Nat Moore and other higher-ups in the Miami Dolphins front office walked out of County Hall Tuesday with a sweeter deal than had been advertised: a 10-year extension to an existing 20-year subsidy agreement that could deliver the team an extra $57.5 million in exchange for moving its training camp from Davie to a new $70 million facility in Miami Gardens. The Dolphins have not yet accepted the deal.

The original proposal listed on the Miami-Dade County Commission’s agenda had a more modest boost for the Dolphins as a reward for moving its headquarters and main operations out of Broward County. That legislation would have added $750,000 a year to the existing $5 million yearly cap on a 2014 agreement between Miami-Dade and the Dolphins that pays the team bonuses for major events like the Orange Bowl and international soccer matches at Hard Rock Stadium.

Miami-Dade hasn’t paid out anything yet, since it can delay awarding the bonuses for a decade. The agreement took effect in 2016 and the Dolphins haven’t come close to reaching the $5 million cap, so actual payouts could be significantly less than the maximum allowed.

As the discussion on that proposal began Tuesday afternoon, Commissioner Barbara Jordan, whose district includes Hard Rock, introduced last-minute legislation that dramatically changed the proposal by extending the existing deal for another 10 years. While the original proposal could have earned the Dolphins an extra $12 million or so, the extension tacked $57.5 million onto the potential payout through 2046.

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This is an artist’s rendering of the Dolphins’ planned new practice facility, which the team wants to build next to its Miami Gardens stadium. Miami Gardens and Miami-Dade County are preparing to offer the team subsidy deals to help defray costs. - Miami Dolphins

The length of the extension would be set by how much the Dolphins pay for the proposed training facility and headquarter offices, with $70 million in construction qualifying the team for the extra 10 years. Lifting the cap by $750,000 once the facility is built requires a construction tab of at least $50 million. Team executives have said it might cost as much as $75 million to build a new facility in Miami Gardens to house the Dolphins front office and training operations.

“I’m excited to bring the Miami Dolphins home to Miami-Dade County,” Jordan said. “They’ve been here with the stadium, but their headquarters, basically... has been in Broward.”

There was no explanation from Jordan on why the richer stadium deal was revealed minutes before the commission vote. It’s the latest rewrite to the 2014 agreement that steers public dollars to Hard Rock in exchange for owner Stephen Ross agreeing to privately finance renovations he says cost close to $500 million. The 2014 agreement pays the Dolphins cash bonuses for bringing large events, including Super Bowl, to the renovated stadium. So far, the Dolphins have requested $1.5 million in payments — $750,000 for the 2016 Orange Bowl college football game, and $750,000 for the 2017 El Clasico soccer match. Last year, Miami-Dade agreed to lock in $1 million yearly bonuses in exchange for Ross building a new facility next door for the Miami Open tennis match, which is leaving its longtime home at the county’s Crandon Park in Key Biscayne.

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As Miami-Dade commissioners prepared to discuss an expanded subsidy deal for the Miami Dolphins connected to a new $75 million training facility in Miami Gardens, team luminaries, executives and supporters sat in the second row of the chambers. From left: Dan Marino, team CEO Tom Garfinkel, team senior vice president Nat Moore, Miami-Dade tourism director Bill Talbert, and team general counsel Myles Pistorius. DOUGLAS HANKS dhanks@miamiherald.com

The numbers from the county budget office show the Dolphins haven’t yet approached the $5 million yearly cap in the existing agreement, which kicked in once the renovated stadium opened in 2016. But large events are coming, including the 2020 Super Bowl, which generates a $4 million bonus.

Commission Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo was the only person on the dais to object to the last-minute revision. Mayor Carlos Gimenez called the proposed agreement “a bargain” for the economic benefits in the deal — including a longer period where the county has bonuses to encourage large events at Hard Rock. “The more marquee events,” Gimenez said, “the better I like it.”

The Dolphins get paid out of hotel taxes, a funding source that pays for recreational and cultural expenses countywide. Miami-Dade’s Parks Department’s proposed budget for 2019 has about $12 million in hotel taxes, representing roughly 5 percent of the total. Miami-Dade has already exercised its option to delay payments to the Dolphins by a decade, and the original deal allows the county to scratch payouts if there isn’t enough hotel tax to cover the Dolphins obligations in any given year.

The Dolphins haven’t officially accepted the county deal approved Tuesday, which was portrayed as a counter to incentives and land offered by Miramar in an effort to lure the training facility to another Broward location. Team CEO Tom Garfinkel said the Dolphins are “considering all options.”

For the vote, the Dolphins tapped their most famous alumnus, Marino, a Hall of Fame quarterback who serves as a special advisor in the team’s front office. He was joined by Nat Moore, another popular team veteran who now works as a team executive. They didn’t speak for the team, but sat in the second row of the commission chambers during the discussion.

Marcus Bach-Armas, director of government affairs for the team, addressed commissioners and said the training facility would bring the high-profile jobs currently based in Davie.

“Players, coaches, support staff,” he said. “We will be moving a minimum of 100 jobs.”

Moving the training facility would shift the heart of the Dolphins operation to Miami-Dade. While the home field gets the most attention, players and coaches spend most of their time at the training center that’s currently located at Davie’s Nova Southeastern University.

“They basically live at the training facility,” Garfinkel said after the 10-1 vote. “Probably 10 months out of the year. They have most of their meals there. There’s a lounge there. There’s a barber there.”

He said the new facility would have at least two outdoor practice fields and one indoors as well as space for administrative offices currently housed in Davie.

Commissioners Audrey Edmonson and Xavier Suarez were not present for the stadium vote. Bovo cast the lone No vote for the Dolphins, citing the extension and questioning what would prevent another one from being approved in the future.

“This literally could be something that never ends,” he said.

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