Miami-Dade County

In Miami, a Super Bowl 50 (and stadium tax) that could have been

Rendering of what Dolphins’s Sun Life Stadium will look like when finished
Rendering of what Dolphins’s Sun Life Stadium will look like when finished

There would have been a football field on an aircraft carrier off Museum Park, floating nightclubs rocking on moored barges, and a Ferris wheel looming over Biscayne Bay.

Miami-Dade County has never put more effort into chasing a Super Bowl than it did for the one slated to be played Sunday in Santa Clara, California. Not only was there a $20 million entertainment and logistics package offered for the festivities, Miami-Dade commissioners also called an emergency countywide election to approve a new hotel tax needed to promise the NFL a renovated stadium for the big game.

The Miami Dolphins’ subsidy plan for Sun Life Stadium fell apart in Tallahassee before the 2013 referendum could be held, handing San Francisco and its new Santa Clara stadium an easy win to host Super Bowl 50. Three years later, as the lost prize revs up on the other side of the country, the weekend offers a look at what happens in Miami when the Super Bowl that could have been doesn’t actually arrive.

“It’s high season in Miami, and the occupancies are already in the low 90s,” said Robert Hill, general manager of the Intercontinental Miami, which was a designated host hotel for the failed Super Bowl 50 bid. “We have a large group arriving this Sunday. They pretty much have the whole hotel.”

Hill still pines for Super Bowl business, recalling when the New Orleans Saints celebrated in the ballroom until 5 a.m. after beating the Colts the last time the big game was here in 2010. “I don’t think there’s a party that compares to that,” he said.

Hotel rates soar during Super Bowl, and the higher prices have in the past sent countywide hotel taxes to record levels. That would be welcome this winter at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, where a chilly January has helped keep rates flat at the beachfront resort. “Big events like that, they have incredible demand,” said marketing director Josh Herman. “We would love to have it back.”

South Florida has hosted 10 Super Bowls, including Super Bowls II and III at the Orange Bowl in 1968 and 1969. Only New Orleans has held that many.

It’s high season in Miami, and the occupancies are already in the low 90s.

Robert Hill, general manager of the Intercontinental Miami

The longest gap between South Florida Super Bowls came after the Orange Bowl’s final NFL championship in 1979 and the new Joe Robbie Stadium’s first in 1989. That 10-year drought would be surpassed if South Florida doesn’t snag another Super Bowl by 2020. Late last month, local organizers revealed their pitch to break the slump with Super Bowl bids for 2019 and 2020 — the region’s first try since losing the 50th game.

For Alyce Robertson, head of Miami’s Downtown Development Authority, the Super Bowls of the past brought more help than Super Bowl 50 would have. “Miami really needed those Super Bowls. Our brand wasn’t out there,” she said. “We went from wanting to become a world-class city, to becoming one.”

But with February already busy for Miami hotels, tourism leaders tout the game’s role as a week-long media event capable of highlighting vacation weather. Bill Talbert, Miami-Dade’s tourism director, noted a string of live television reports this week from San Francisco. “All the hosts are wearing gloves,” he said.

The loss of Super Bowl 50 helped usher in a new era for how South Florida plans to host the big game.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross had tried to secure a hotel-tax stream for a $350 million renovation, including the addition of a partial roof that would have kept spectators dry during the downpour that drenched the Sun Life stands during the 2007 Super Bowl.

He had local backing: Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez endorsed the plan to raise Miami-Dade’s hotel tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, and finance about half of the renovation.

Big events like that, they have incredible demand. We would love to have it back.

Fontainebleau Miami Beach marketing director Josh Herman

Gimenez insisted on a countywide referendum on the matter, and county commissioners scheduled an emergency election May 14, 2013 — just one week before NFL owners were to award the 50th Super Bowl. The Dolphins agreed to cover the costs of not waiting until the next regular election, and lost their $5 million deposit when the referendum got canceled after the Tallahassee defeat.

A year later, Ross closed a different deal with Miami-Dade. The agreement required the Dolphins to fund the entire stadium renovation, with the new canopy slated to be finished by the start of the 2016 season. In exchange, Miami-Dade agreed to pay the Dolphins up to $5 million a year in bonuses for attracting major sporting events to the stadium. International soccer matches bring $750,000. A Super Bowl pays $4 million.

“That is roughly the equivalent of the cost of a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl,” Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández said of the subsidy, which is paid out of hotel taxes.

As football fans flood into the San Francisco Bay area for the Super Bowl, so does counterfeit NFL merchandise. Inferior quality and a negative impact on the economy are side effects of the cheap goods. The Department of Homeland Security is rampi

Gimenez’s Dolphins deal was the first in the country to tie a local stadium subsidy to major events, raising the stakes for Ross to secure another Super Bowl. The longtime chairman of South Florida’s Super Bowl committee, Rodney Barreto, is also a partner in the lobbying firm, Floridian Partners, that negotiated the Dolphins’ stadium deal with Miami-Dade.

The NFL uses Super Bowl as both carrot and stick in its pursuit of tax-funded stadium deals, and typically bestows the big game on franchises with new venues.

Barreto said the 50th Super Bowl would have been an historic get for South Florida, given its history as a top NFL destination. But any Super Bowl, he said, reinforces Miami as the place to be in the winter.

“What is Miami and South Florida all about?” he asked. “It’s all about tourism.”

Should Super Bowl return for the 53rd or 54th game, it would be the first under new restrictions included in Gimenez’s stadium deal that bar the NFL from putting headquarter hotels or major events in Broward County.

Nicki Grossman, Broward’s tourism director, said the Super Bowl would still bring a boost to the Fort Lauderdale area, even though there’s not much room for extra tourists this year as kick-off approaches for the big 50th anniversary game.

“I mean, it’s February,” she said. “Last year in February, occupancy was close to 95 percent. And there was no Super Bowl anywhere near here.”

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