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Sun Life Deal Must Approved By Voters

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An artist rendering of proposed changes to Sun Life Stadium (Source: Miami Dolphins)

An artist rendering of proposed changes to Sun Life Stadium (Source: Miami Dolphins)

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Miami Dolphins

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Dolphins and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez held a joint press conference Monday morning to announce both sides are negotiating a possible deal to put an agreement before the voters to renovate Sun Life Stadium.

However, before the issue can go to voters, Mayor Gimenez must agree to a deal with the Dolphins and then ask the Miami-Dade County Commission to call a special election for voters to decide on that deal.

“We believe it’s the right thing to do,” Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said. “We believe that a decision by the voters will go our way.”

That’s a quick change in just a few weeks when Dee said they wouldn’t put the stadium renovation plans to a vote. Dee told CBS4’s Jim DeFede on Facing South Florida that there wasn’t enough time to do a referendum.

Watch the entire joint press conference by clicking on the image:

(Source: CBS4)

(Source: CBS4)

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez called the decision to go the voters on the renovation plans was “a must.”

Mayor Gimenez also wants to explore the idea of making the tax money contingent on certain guarantees, like landing more Super Bowls.

According to county officials, it will cost roughly $3-$5 million to get the issue to a vote. The money would be taken from the general fund, but even after it’s approved, it will take an additional 60 to 90 days to get a special election together.

Needless to say, time is of the essence in the negotiations.

In order to hold the referendum before May 22, the county will have to have a deal in place and the Miami-Dade County Commission would have to vote to set the election by mid-March.

That time frame will put the Dolphins stadium vote perilously close to the date NFL owners are set to decide on what city will host Super Bowl L (50), May 22. The vote on Super Bowl L will be between Santa Clara, California and South Florida.

Santa Clara is currently building a brand new, roughly $1 billion stadium for the San Francisco 49ers to move into. The stadium, and the entire Bay area, is the focus of the bid from the Santa Clara.

Miami’s bid hinges on the improvements to Sun Life, which has been priced at roughly $400 million. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has pledged to pay for half of the upgrades and wants public money to pay for the other half.

Gimenez said Dolphins owner Stephen Ross should “of course” pay more for the stadium upgrades, “He (Ross) started at 51, that’s great, I don’t believe we’re going to end up at 51 percent.”

The Dolphins have pushed the fact that no local taxes will be increased to pay for the stadium’s renovation. However, opponents like Norman Braman, who led the charge against Marlins Park, have not bought into the Dolphins plan and are opposing it as well.

Braman said the notion of a public vote on the renovations is fine “but the devil is in the details.”

He said neither the Dolphins nor the county has explained in a detailed way where the $400 million will go. How much for the roof? How much for the seats? The lights? Braman said over the years the figure keeps changing.

“No one knows what the cost of this thing is,” Braman said.. “The mayor doesn’t know. How do you negotiate something when you don’t know what the cost is?”

Braman criticized the mayor for even discussing the matter with the Dolphins.

“The mayor has acted, I think inappropriately,” Braman said. “This mayor would not be mayor if it weren’t for the Marlins debacle and this is the Marlins dressed as the Dolphins. When you get down to it its still welfare for a multi-billionaire.”

Yet at the same time Braman seemed anxious to have this issue on the ballot. He promised to spend what is needed to defeat any proposal.

“I’d love a good referendum because frankly i’d like to hammer some nails into this coffin once and for all,” he said.

The Marlins were able to pull together a boondoggle of a deal that put Miami and Miami-Dade taxpayers on the hook for a roughly $2 billion in total funding to build Marlins Park. That issue was never put before taxpayers, many of which opposed the deal at the time.

After initially spending on the roster last season, the Marlins have since blown up the team’s roster and will likely not field a competitive team in 2013. The team is also expecting poor attendance in 2013, which the team has blamed in the past for roster trimming.

But, Gimenez is quick to point out that dealing with the Dolphins and Ross is infinitely better than the Marlins.

“These aren’t the Marlins, and certainly Mr. Ross is a different owner,” Gimenez said. “That (Marlins Park) was a bad deal. A lot of things were kept in the dark. I don’t deal that way. I’m sure the Dolphins don’t deal that way also.”

The Sun Life renovation plan seeks to increase taxes on tourists, which would be approved at the local level. But, the deal is complicated by the state legislature.

The Legislature will have to approve allowing the county to raise the taxes one percent on mainland hotels. In addition,  the Dolphins are looking for an additional sales tax exemption for the stadium from the Florida Legislature. The sales tax exemption would be in addition to one the Dolphins already have on the stadium.

But between voters and the legislature, seeking any increase in, or exemption from, taxes is seen as anathema and the Dolphins have a tough road ahead to plow.

In addition, Mayor Gimenez said until all negotiations between the county and the Dolphins are completed, he will not advocate for the stadium.

For Sun Life Stadium, if the renovations are not approved or if they fail on a vote and Stephen Ross doesn’t agree to shoulder all of the cost; the Super Bowl is not likely to come back to South Florida anytime soon.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said as much the last time the Super Bowl was in the area. The NFL was still smarting after the 2007 game saw a deluge of rain when Goodell threatened the area. Goodell stressed the need for a roof and overall improvements to Sun Life after the monsoon game.

Still, last week Goodell said the Super Bowl would return to New Orleans, despite the blackout game at the Superdome. Plus, next year’s Super Bowl is scheduled to be held outdoors in New Jersey, which could put it at risk of having heavy snow in the area by the time the game rolls around.

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