BRADENTON, Fla. — Florida’s Miami Dolphins have proposed public funding to pay half the cost of upgrading their 25-year-old football stadium, which they hope to use as part of the bid package to host the 50th Super Bowl game in 2016.
Legislation will be filed to provide public funding for half of the renovation cost, estimated to be as much as $400 million, according to Dolphins chief executive officer Mike Dee. A similar effort to seek public funding failed in 2011.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said he and private investors will pay a majority of the cost, which was described as amounting to “at least 50-plus-1%.”
“We promise to approach this totally different than other stadium approvals or stadium financings that have taken place in the past,” Ross said. “We pledge to invest more personally and return more to the community than any other financing or event that has taken place with regards to stadiums.”
Ross also said he would promise that the National Football League team would remain in Miami to play in the upgraded facility for the next 25 years, adding that “we will, therefore, secure the future.” When asked if the team would leave South Florida if the stadium is not renovated, Ross replied, “We didn’t say that.”
The team has enlisted two South Florida legislators to file bills authorizing as many as three taxes to finance the public portion of the stadium renovations. The legislation would seek a $3 million-a-year state sales tax rebate for 30 years, and authorize the Miami-Dade Commission to raise convention and tourist development taxes by at least 2 cents.
The taxes can be used to pay debt service on bonds issued to finance the improvements, according to HB 165 filed by Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Miami-Dade, on Monday. Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Broward and Miami-Dade counties, is expected to file a companion bill.
The Florida Legislature meets in regular session from March 5 to May 2.
The Dolphins launched the initiative for public funding just 18 weeks before the host city of Super Bowl L will be announced.
Dee said team officials will begin meeting with Miami-Dade County commissioners about the tourist and convention tax proposals, which commissioners must still approve if authorized by lawmakers.
It’s unclear whether it could be hard to sell the County Commission on the plan, given past disapproval by local residents of the recent construction of a Major League Baseball stadium for the Miami Marlins, which cost more than $600 million.
The county paid about $350 million of the cost by issuing bonds secured by convention, tourist and sales taxes as well as a professional sports facilities tax on hotel rooms, and $50 million of general obligation bonds. While most of the taxes supporting the bonds can only be used for tourist or sports-related needs, they are still considered public funds.
The Marlins stadium project was part of what led local voters to recall the county mayor and a commissioner in 2011. Several county commissioners voted against the ballpark funding.
“We can’t undo what’s been done in the past, nor would it be fair for us to opine on what could have been done differently,” Dee said about opposition to the Marlins project. He said elected officials “weren’t necessarily against public funding for sports facilities, they were more against bad deals for the community.”
The Marlins played in Sun Life Stadium prior to getting their new ballpark, and received a state sales-tax rebate to remodel it for football and baseball. As part of the renovations proposed by the Dolphins, the baseball improvements made to Sun Life will be re-purposed or removed.
Along with remodeling nearly all aspects of the existing stadium, the Dolphins will add a $100 million canopy to cover the seating area. There will also be new seating, a sound system, lighting and scoreboards. The upgrades are not expected to disrupt Dolphins games, and would be completed in time for the 2015 NFL season.
Sun Life Stadium opened in 1987, and was the first of its kind to be constructed entirely with private funds. The facility is privately owned and it’s not clear if public financing could require a public purchase of the stadium.
When asked if the owner would consider selling a portion of the stadium in return for public financing, Dee said, “We don’t have any particular idea in mind. We’ve just got to see how the discussion goes.”
The improvements proposed by the Dolphins are also designed to make the stadium competitive for hosting future college championship games, the Pan Am Games, professional soccer, and other premier sports and entertainment events.
The NFL has told the team that it’s unlikely to win any Super Bowls without stadium improvements, even though San Francisco and South Florida are the two finalists the league has selected to compete for Super Bowl L. The host city for the 2016 game will be named on May 22 in Boston.