BRADENTON, Fla. — As the Miami Dolphins continue to seek $225 million in public funding to upgrade their privately financed stadium, a Florida senator has filed a bill that would prohibit public funds from being spent on professional sports facilities without a local referendum.
Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, filed SB 630 last week. A similar bill he filed in 2007 failed to pass, but so did several measures that year that would have provided sports facility financing.
“It just makes sense to me, with all the shortage of money and everybody scrambling for money, that if a football team or a baseball team can spend $30 million to have a guy throw a baseball or have a guy throw a football, they surely can pay for their own stadium,” the senator said when he filed his 2007 bill.
Bennett’s office confirmed Tuesday that he still believes public funding of professional sports facilities is wrong, and that the referendum requirement would apply to all teams. But it would not apply to any public funding for teams whose revenues were already subject to “a legally binding obligation of a governmental entity,” according to the bill.
The referendum requirement would go into effect July 1. The Florida Legislature will start its annual session March 8.
Bennett’s office also said he is drafting a bill to be filed this month that would enable Miami-Dade County to raise its convention development tax to finance long-sought improvements to the Miami Beach Convention Center.
That bill would prohibit those funds from being used for the Dolphins’ stadium. The Dolphins play their home games in Sun Life Stadium and were the first team in the National Football League to play in a privately financed facility.
The team says it wants as much as $225 million in public funding to bring the 24-year-old stadium in north Miami-Dade County up to “world-class” standards with amenities such as a canopy-style roof, high-definition video screens and extended seating to bring fans closer to the field.
Though Sun Life Stadium has hosted five Super Bowls, three Bowl Championship Series games and numerous concerts, the team said the upgrades are necessary to remain competitive for future Super Bowls and other premiere events.
The Dolphins have worked with Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, on a bill he filed that would allow Miami-Dade and Broward to raise their tourist taxes to support bond financing for the improvements. That bill would require Miami-Dade to split its increased tax revenue between the stadium and the convention center.
The Broward County Commission and Michael Yormark, owner of the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers, have come out against that plan. The Panthers play in the $185 million, bond-financed BankAtlantic Center, which is owned by Broward County and hosts concerts, shows and other major events.
“The Dolphins clearly intend to turn their stadium into a multipurpose entertainment facility that can compete with the BankAtlantic Center for entertainment programming,” Yormark said last month.
Originally, the Dolphins sought a 50-50 split of the tourist tax revenue from Miami-Dade between the stadium and the convention center. Last week, the team reportedly offered in a local chamber meeting to split the revenue 60-40, with the convention center getting the larger share.