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M-D Commission Approves Fins Stadium Deal

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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 (CBS4) – The Miami-Dade Commission has approved a stadium deal between the Miami Dolphins and the county to renovate Sun Life Stadium using taxpayer money along with private money from Fins owner Stephen Ross.

The motion was passed by an 8-3 majority with Commissioners Bovo, Zapata, and Suarez voting against the deal.

The biggest issue facing the Dolphins and the Commission had nothing to do with the item before the Commission Wednesday. Both sides had to deal with arguably the worst public/private deal ever struck to fund a stadium with the Miami Marlins.

The Dolphins still has to convince a deeply skeptical community it does need the help to make Sun Life Stadium competitive in the future. They also have to convince the community this deal is about as far from the Marlins deal as possible.

Commissioners also still have to deal with the possibility of running into the wrath of taxpayers and Norman Braman if they decide to support the issue. Braman said he was ready to bankroll opposition to the deal in an election, but if he waits for the legislature to vote, as he told CBS4, he may miss out on opportunity to influence absentee voters.

Miami-Dade County Consultant Carl Hirsch said the stiff penalties included in the deal for the Dolphins were “unique” and “pretty unbelievable. Hirsch said he’s never seen a deal like this in his more than 20 years of sports consulting.

“It’s a one of a kind deal,” Hirsch told the Commission.

Bill Talbert of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau told the county commission Wednesday that having a Super Bowl in the county represents approximately $82 million in free international press for Miami. For Talbert and the GMCVB, upgrading the stadium is the key he says to the sales and marketing of Miami as a tourist destination.

“It would take 30 years to buy this type of PR,” Talbert said.

Miami Dolphins CEO Mike Dee went before the county commission next and said the stadium renovation plans will create thousands of local jobs and turn the stadium into “a world class facility.”

Dee continued saying the team is committed to being in South Florida through 2043. The Dolphins said they would pay more than 70 percent of the costs of getting the stadium upgraded. Dee said the modernization will be paid in part by “visitors to the county, not taxpayers.”

“If the team doesn’t deliver” on what it’s promised in the deal, “the county doesn’t have to deliver on the investment,” Dee told the commission.

Time is of the essence in the deal as Rodney Barreto of the Miami-Dade Super Bowl Committee said the group will head to New York in 10 days to sell the NFL owners on awarding Super Bowl L to Miami. Barreto said landing the 50th anniversary event will bring big money from corporate sponsors, not sports fans looking for discount deals.

Barreto also tipped his hand a bit and revealed a few of the details of the county’s pitch to the NFL owners. Barreto said part of the plan involves closing down Biscayne Blvd in downtown Miami and staging major events at Bayfront and Bicentennial Parks.

Commissioner Barrero was one of the first to speak and immediately came out in support of the deal. Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz agreed with Barrero and also said he was ready to vote in favor of the deal worked out between the county and the team.

“This deal has come a long way,” Commissioner Diaz said. “I’m glad to see the way it was formed.”

Commissioner Sally Heyman said previously that she would support the deal but specifically said for the record that she “likes it” and that the deal addressed what she considers the most important aspects: the percentages, the guarantees, and the penalties.”

The mood began to turn when Commissioner Xavier Suarez began to speak. Commissioner Suarez said he would not support the deal or put it on the ballot. Suarez said he’s worried about the quick timeline for a potential vote.

“Many people don’t have the time or interest to participate, especially at the end of May,” Suarez said.

As questions about the election began, Miami-Dade Elections Chief Penelope Townsley described the potential referendum as “an unprecedented challenge.” Townsley said she has the support of the Mayor and believes her office can put together the election in just 30 days.

Assuming the county commission approves the deal on Wednesday, the notice of the election will be published on April 13. The elections department would immediately mobilize to hold the election, but Townsley said there has already been background work going on in anticipation of a possible election.

Townsley said the County anticipates it will begin mailing ballots overseas starting April 16 and then domestic ballots would begin to be distributed on April 23.

Commissioner Bovo then asked about Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and specifically why weren’t his personal finances examined with regards to the deal. Mayor Gimenez said the County decided to look at the Dolphins Organization and Stadium Management Company, not Ross, in deciding if the Dolphins were financially capable of doing a deal like this.

Gimenez said Ross has assets outside the Dolphins and the deal agreed to this week has Ross’ personal guarantee on the notes. Gimenez told Bovo that if Ross sold the Dolphins, the new owner must be approved by the NFL and have assets of at least $1 billion and then the debt would transfer to the new owner.

In addition, Ross would have to pay a $20 million penalty and the new owner would have to pay off the balance up to $120 million the county would have loaned the county.

Still, Bovo said the time crunch for an election was too much and that a minimum of 60 days were needed to call an election and that he would be voting against the deal.

Commissioner Zapata said the agreement was “a lot of information to digest in very little time.” Zapata was worried about guarantees. “The teams don’t let us down, it’s usually the owners of the teams,” Zapata said.

Commissioner Zapata then asked the question of what would happen to the deal if Stephen Ross died? The County Attorney said Ross has given personal guarantees on the payment obligations of $112 million as well as any marquee event penalty payments and that it would be binding upon his heirs if he died.

“If there was $230 million dollars of debt on the franchise…and it sold for 1.1 billion, Mr. Ross would not walk away with $1.1 billion,” Fins CEO Dee said. “He would walk away with something less than that and the debt would be conveyed to the new owner.”

Still, it wasn’t enough to sway Zapata in the end.

The Commission was told the deal could be modified through a simple majority vote with Mayor Gimenez saying, “I don’t think we can tie the hands of a future commission. Things could change over 30 years.”

As the commission meeting continued to wear on the Mayor’s office said there was concern the commissioners were getting into details and slicing up the deal which may end up “killing the deal.”

The County amended the deal to remove any wording of a specific Super Bowl and changed it to Miami getting any Super Bowl awarded at the upcoming NFL owners meetings. However, it’s unlikely that any Super Bowl past 51 will be awarded.

But Dee said the deal is clear, “No Super Bowl, no deal.”

Commissioner Monestime called the stadium plan a fair deal afterwards and said he’d support the overall plan. Commissioner Soto then weighed in saying he doesn’t like “how fast this train is going,” about the deal.

Shortly after that, Commissioner Diaz said he wanted to amend the deal to require the updated stadium should use a majority of Miami-Dade Police and Fire for off-duty staffing issues. The Dolphins quickly agreed to Commissioner Diaz’s amendment.

By the time the county attorney began preparing for a final vote nearly five hours into the meeting, three amendments were added to the deal.

One amendment changed the wording to a generic Super Bowl. The second one increased hiring goals on the project to have 70 percent of the work force come from Miami-Dade County and issue quarterly reports on diversity hiring. The final would require the use of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and Miami-Dade Police for off duty jobs at the stadium. If no one is available, then Miami Gardens resources would be the next choice.

A quick vote ended the day’s activity with an 8-3 majority approving the stadium deal. A second vote of 9-2 sends the deal to the voters as Zapata changed his vote to approve sending it to the voters.

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