Miami-Dade County Agrees to Dolphins Stadium Deal

The Miami Dolphins would receive about $7.5 million a year in hotel taxes to renovate Sun Life Stadium under a deal endorsed by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Now, the agreement faces a countywide referendum.
by | April 9, 2013 AT 12:00 PM

By Patricia Mazzei and Douglas Hanks

The Miami Dolphins would receive about $7.5 million a year in hotel taxes to renovate Sun Life Stadium under a deal endorsed by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez late Monday night. Now, the agreement faces a countywide referendum.

County commissioners are expected to convene Wednesday to endorse the deal and send it on to the countywide vote on May 14, a week before NFL owners meet to award Super Bowls 50 and 51. The Dolphins have agreed to forgo county money if one of the games is not awarded to the Miami Gardens stadium.

"This is really about bringing marquee events to Miami-Dade,'' Gimenez said after the deal was struck, shortly after 10 p.m. "This is a very, very favorable deal when you compare it to other stadium deals around the country."

The Super Bowl proviso is one of several potential penalties in the deal that Gimenez and team executives outlined after a marathon negotiating session that kept both sides in County Hall for 23 hours.

"This is really an investment in economic development,'' team CEO Mike Dee said. "We said this would be a business deal."

Dee and Gimenez described the rough outlines of a deal that will be presented in detail to county commissioners Tuesday morning. Among the terms: Miami-Dade would increase its mainland hotel tax to 7 percent from 6 percent, and give the Dolphins 75 percent of the new revenue up to $7.5 million a year in Year One. Each year, that dollar cap would increase by 3 percent. The payout would expire in 26 years.

At the end of 30 years, the Dolphins would refund between $110 and $120 million to the county -- Miami-Dade's estimated share of a renovation project that would cost at least $350 million.

The Dolphins also would pay up to $120 million in penalties if they fell short of bringing a roster of large sporting events to Sun Life during the next 30 years, including four Super Bowls and four national college football championships.

Owner Stephen Ross also reportedly would pay significant penalties if he sold the team during the next five years, and the Dolphins will sign a 30-year agreement not to leave Miami-Dade.

With commission approval all but assured, the Dolphins now face two challenges: First, getting state law changed to allow the higher hotel tax in Miami-Dade and create a $3 million stadium subsidy that would last for 30 years.

Then the Dolphins also must win voter approval on May 14. Two public polls have shown overwhelming opposition to sending tax dollars to Sun Life, but the Dolphins' campaign team says they can win enough support at the polls to get the measure passed.

The agreement was announced during the first home game of the season at Marlins Park, a tax-funded stadium that will cost local governments about $2 billion in debt payments over the next 30 years. That deal remains unpopular, which Gimenez readily acknowledged.

"This deal is so different from the Marlins deal,'' he said in an interview, "even to say them in the same breath is a stretch. It is like night and day."

Gimenez said he supported the Dolphins deal, and would "happily" vote for it. But he stopped short of saying he would campaign for it. "I'm not in campaign mode,'' he said. "If asked, I will support it."

The Dolphins released a photo of Gimenez and Dee shaking hands in the negotiating table, but the deal seemed in trouble throughout the day Monday. Gimenez aides had a press release announcing that a deal had been reached ready to go around lunchtime, and Gimenez went on the radio touting the "framework" of an agreement.

But talks stretched on and on, and people close to the team worried the negotiations might unravel or stretch on too long to meet the statutory deadlines needed to hold the May 14 election.

It was not known Tuesday night what caused the talks to stretch on Monday. Both sides began negotiating Sunday morning at Sun Life, then moved to County Hall at 10 that night. While Gimenez went home, Dee remained, as did county attorneys and others on the mayor's staff.

Ross, the owner, was attending the NCAA basketball championship (he is a Michigan alum) during the talks, but issued a statement late Monday that said in part: "We are proud to join Mayor Gimenez in agreeing to an unprecedented public-private partnership that will modernize Sun Life Stadium and protect property-tax payers..."

"They're a very professional organization," Gimenez said of the Dolphins. "Mr. Ross is a gentleman."

Earlier in the day, Gimenez had described the deal as an "economic development grant" -- public dollars to provide the Dolphins with a revenue stream so they can borrow money to fund the renovations to the 1987 stadium.

(c)2013 The Miami Herald