Reporting Gary Nelson
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MIAMI GARDENS (CBS4) – The Miami Dolphins drew hometown support Thursday in their quest for a roughly $400 million renovation of Sun Life Stadium.
Community leaders in Miami Gardens, where the stadium is located, called a news conference just down the street from the facility to encourage voter approval of an expected referendum on the makeover. Tax dollars would pay for just under half the project with the Dolphins picking up the rest.
“If we want to be a world class community, we have to have world class venues,” said Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert. “We can’t say that we want to be a place where everyone comes, if we don’t want to invest in facilities that everyone wants to come to.”
When the Fins play, the network often cuts away to beauty shots of the Miami skyline and the beaches, but Sun Life is far away in Miami Gardens, surrounded by largely bare land. Boosters of the stadium deal say it could change that.
“I already have people coming to my office inquiring about vacant land so they can develop,” said County Commissioner Barbara Jordan.
Supporters say a stadium makeover would draw lots of visitors to major events like international soccer competitions, marquis concerts and the Pan American Games.
Activist Norman Braman, who opposed the publicly-funded stadium for the Miami Marlins, and lead a successful recall effort against former Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, said the Dolphins stadium proposal is “welfare for a billionaire,” referring to team owner Stephen Ross.
Mostly tourist taxes are being tapped to pay the public’s share of the Sun Life project, money that can only be used for sports and entertainment projects, But the team is also asking for sales tax rebates of several million dollars a year.
“These are tax dollars, and sales tax dollars are dollars that fund our schools, that fund our police,” Braman said, adding that Miami Gardens, with high crime and unemployment, can ill afford tax money for football.
Braman scoffed at claims that an improved Sun Life Stadium would bring new development and jobs to the area, pointing to similar claims for the Marlins stadium project that have failed to materialize.
Commissioner Jordan insisted that both projects will yield economic dividends, but that it takes time. She noted that the Marlins stadium has been operating for only a year.
The debate over the Dolphins’ stadium plan could be rendered moot. It would have to get a green light from the Florida legislature and at this point there appears to be little enthusiasm in Tallahassee, even among South Florida’s delegation. That could change, however.
Indeed, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee was upbeat as he stood with the Miami Gardens officials Thursday.
“If we weren’t confident that we could achieve success, we would not have agreed to a referendum,” Dee said, referring to a county-wide vote of the people that could be scheduled within three months. “Are we cocky? No,” Dee said. “Are we confident that our message will prevail? Absolutely.”
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who vehemently opposed the Marlins stadium deal, agreed to support the Dolphins efforts, providing the issue is put to a vote of the people and with the caveat that the NFL guarantee the city will host Super Bowl L (50).