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Sun Life Stadium Bill Dies In Legislature

Future Of Super Bowls In South Florida In Doubt
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Florida Legislature (Source: David Sutta/CBS4)

Florida Legislature (Source: David Sutta/CBS4)

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Legislative Session Coverage

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – The future of Sun Life Stadium, and possibly future Super Bowls in South Florida, is up in the air Friday afternoon after the Florida House of Representatives failed to take up a bill dealing with the renovation of Sun Life Stadium.

The lack of action by the Florida House ended months of bills, amendments, campaigning, and political machinations in Tallahassee and South Florida to secure state money to help renovate Sun Life Stadium. The bill, which was attached to an unrelated tax bill, died when Speaker of the House Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) did not bring it up for a full vote.

The lack of action by the House means the stadium renovation plan is dead.

After the session concluded, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross released this statement:

Tonight, Speaker Weatherford did far more than just deny the people of Miami Dade the right to vote on an issue critical to the future of our local economy.  The Speaker single-handedly put the future of Super Bowls and other big events at risk for Miami Dade and for all of Florida. He put politics before the people and the 4,000 jobs this project would have created for Miami-Dade and that is just wrong. I am deeply disappointed by the Speaker’s decision.

The Sun Life Stadium renovation bill sought to secure roughly $3 million in sales tax refunds from the state for 30 years. It also would have allowed residents in Miami-Dade County to vote on allowing an increase in the tourism tax to help pay for the Sun Life Stadium renovations.

The Dolphins vowed to pay back all of the money it was given by the county and the state in a deal that was previously approved by the Miami-Dade County Commission. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross also paid more than $4 million, which was non-refundable, to have the special election on May 14.

Early and absentee voting had already started in Miami-Dade County with a final vote set for the 14th. However, now that the plan died in the house, the official vote in Miami-Dade was cancelled and the votes already cast will not count.

“It is important to point out that the special election did not cost tax payers any money, as the Dolphins paid the County $4.7 million to cover election expenses – in fact, we estimate that there will be over one million dollars left over that can be used to meet other County needs,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in a statement. “I would like to thank those voters who took advantage of early voting to express their opinion on the stadium issue.  My priority from the beginning of this process has been to give our voters the final say.”

The Sun Life Stadium plan was to cost roughly $350 million with some of the money coming from the state, some from the county, and the rest from the Dolphins. The plan included a canvas roof, HD screens, new seating, and updated lighting could be out the window.

But it wasn’t just the stadium that may have been cost millions of dollars by the lack of action in the House Friday. South Florida may be out of luck when it comes to hosting more Super Bowls. The renovated Sun Life Stadium was to be the focal point of the area’s pitch to host Super Bowl L (50).

South Florida was facing a stiff challenge from Santa Clara, California for the rights to host Super Bowl L. Santa Clara is building a state-of-the-art stadium that will cost in the neighborhood of $1 billion to be the centerpiece of its bid to the NFL.

Now, the future of Super Bowl’s in South Florida is in doubt.

The writing was on the wall a little before noon Friday when Senator Oscar Braynon (D-Miami Gardens), who sponsored the Sun Life Stadium renovation bill, told CBS4’s David Sutta the bill is likely “dead.”

“The goal as the Senate sponsor was to push it to the 50 yard line and let the House take it to the end zone,” Braynon said. “Dude, I want to say I got to the 80. I mean I got to the 20, I’m sorry. I took it 80 yards. We can kick a field goal, but we’re seven point down. So I don’t know that it matters.”

Braynon tried some last minute maneuvering Thursday to get the Sun Life Stadium renovation plan, which was added to HB 1828, onto the House floor for a vote.

The House had originally approved the bill and it was sent to the Senate. Braynon amended the bill and it was passed by the Senate and returned to the House on Thursday. That was the final chance the bill had after a previous version had stalled in a House committee earlier in the session.

Speaker Weatherford said from the outset on Friday that there was no guarantee HB 1828 as amended by the Senate to include the Sun Life Stadium plan would even be brought up in the House Friday.

“I’d say it’s an uphill battle for the Dolphins,” Weatherford said Thursday. He didn’t indicate if he would bring the bill up for a vote on Friday.

Weatherford’s credibility was in question Friday due to what he reportedly told former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, who was in town to work for his autism foundation. Marino said that Weatherford told him the Sun Life bill had “a good chance” of passing in the House. When asked about what Marino said, Weatherford gave a completely different story.

“It was interesting. When he was there, he was talking about autism and autism awareness” Weatherford said. “He didn’t bring up the Dolphins bill. Somebody in the office said something about Dolphins. He said, ‘Oh, yeah. By the way. I’m supposed to tell you that I’m in favor of that bill.’

Weatherford continued, “And we had a good chuckle about it. No. I didn’t say whether the bill would pass or die. I said the bill’s still alive. Everything’s alive until Day 60. But whether or not it passes the Florida House has yet to be seen.”

The Sun Life Stadium bill ran into problems earlier in the week when Democrats slowed business in the Florida House to a crawl to demand more action be taken on expanding Medicaid reform as part of the Affordable Act, also known as Obamacare.

The move by Democrats ended Thursday, but the two days of delays hindered many bills, including the Sun Life Stadium plan from getting before the full Florida house.

Business for the Dolphins didn’t start off well Friday morning. CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald reported that a clause could “force local communities to face an unexpected tax for the upgrade of their stadiums.” The Herald said the bill in the House would attach strings to any sales tax breaks from the state.

According to the Herald, if a sports team received the sales tax, it “must prove that sales have increased by $50 million after the stadium renovations. If the team is not able to increase sales-and by extension sales taxes-by the allotted amount, it would be forced to reimburse the state.”

The Herald reported the money may not have to come from the team either. According to the Herald, if a team doesn’t meet the sales target, the team can use money from a local government’s “half-penny” sales tax to help repay the state.

The half-penny sales tax typically goes to pay for things like education, transportation, and other county initiatives, according to the Herald. If a team consistently missed revenue targets, the money could be diverted from those items to help repay the stadium money, according to the Herald.

For their part, the Miami Dolphins told the Herald that this part of the bill doesn’t apply to the Sun Life Stadium renovation plan because they own and operate the facility, not the county, according to the Herald.

Even if the plan had passed the state legislature, there was no guarantee that it would make it past the voters in Miami-Dade County. Voters still stinging over the Miami Marlins deal and subsequent action by the team regarding the roster were skeptical of the Dolphins deal.

Ads supporting the stadium plan began airing in the last week in Miami-Dade County. But, billionaire Norman Braman vowed to lead the fight against the stadium vote if it got back to Miami-Dade County. Braman said from the beginning the bill would not make it past the Florida House.

In addition to Braman, a political action committee formed this week to oppose the stadium deal. CBS4’s Gary Nelson reported the PAC is named “Taxpayers Against Corporate Welfare.” The PAC listed a Tampa, Florida address and phone number and is chaired by attorney JC Planas.

Planas told CBS4’s Nelson the filing was a “just in case” measure because opponents of the Sun Life Stadium deal believe the legislature will not approve the bill currently before the House.

On the other side, the pro-stadium PAC, Friends of Miami First, has raised $1,000,000 to convince voters to support the Sun Life Renovation plan.

For now, both sides can retreat as the Legislature made sure the stadium that is approaching 30 years old will not be renovated in the near future with the help of taxpayer money.

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