Reporting Jim DeFede
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MIAMI (CBS4) – Following the team’s crushing defeat in Tallahassee, Dolphin CEO Mike Dee announced on Sunday team owner Stephen Ross would not invest any new money into Sun Life stadium.
“We can not do this without a private-public partnership,” Dee said in his first and only interview following the Legislature’s adjournment. “We opened our books to the county, their experts confirmed that, and at this time we have no intention of investing more.”
On Friday the Florida House adjourned without taking up the Dolphin renovation bill. The bill would have allowed Miami Dade voters to decide if they wanted to raise the hotel bed tax to help pay for the $350 million renovation. The Senate passed the bill. But House Speaker Will Weatherford refused to allow a vote in the House, thereby bringing the special election and the Dolphins’ plans to a grinding halt.
“This was about one guy, this was a one guy roadblock,” said Dee, who claimed if Weatherford had allowed the bill to be voted on he had 84 votes in support of the measure – more than enough to pass it.
Dee claimed that Weatherford promised him on four separate occasions that he would allow the bill to be brought up for a vote.
“Something happened late in the process that caused him to change his mind,” Dee said. “We suspect it’s a pure political decision. He is choosing politics over the right of the voters of Miami Dade County to decide this issue and that’s a shame.”
After the vote, owner Ross sent out a blistering statement attacking Weatherford. On Sunday, Dee continued the invectives.
“This abuse of power I believe will follow his career for a long time,” he said. “I believe that he decided that his one vote was more important than the collective votes of a lot of dedicated legislators on the Senate side and the House side and most importantly, more important than the voters of Miami Dade County.”
Dee also said the team has no plans to try and return to Tallahassee next year to renew their request, since Weatherford will still be the Speaker.
“I don’t know if you can win him over, you can’t do anything more than we did and the way that we approached the partnership,” he said. “This is a political animal, he is a young guy in big position with big aspirations.”
And with the stadium in decay, Dee raised the possibility the Dolphins may be forced to leave.
“I wouldn’t want to prognosticate what the future holds, but it is clearly bleak,” he said.
Asked if he envisions a scenario in which the Dolphins would be leaving South Florida, Dee said: “Not under Steve Ross’s ownership. He’s said that over and over again. But he also said that at some point he will sell the team. At some point somebody is going to buy the franchise from Steve and clearly the stadium issue is going to be the first thing that they would need to address.”
Is Ross looking now to sell the team?
“I don’t think so today,” Dee said.
When told using that word “today” wasn’t very reassuring, Dee added: “Well it’s not my sense in talking to him. This is still raw, it’s still fresh. It just happened two days ago.”
Dee also cryptically noted that the Dolphins are one of the only franchises in the National Football League that do not have a long-term lease with their community. Meaning the team could pick up and move at anytime.
In the interview Sunday, Dee admitted that when Ross purchased the Dolphins from Wayne Huizenga for a record setting $1.1 billion, Ross didn’t take the time to evaluate the stadiums problems.
“I don’t think Steve or any of us knew the condition of the facility was as desperate as it was when he bought the team,” Dee said. “He really wanted to own the Miami Dolphins, it’s his home town, and I think he kind of made the bid, bought the team and figured it out later.”
It now appears Ross was counting on public money from the start to help him renovate the stadium. Whether that was a wise assumption, remains to be seen. But now that public funding is gone, the Dolphins are in trouble.
Dee however refused to describe Ross’s purchase of the team and bad business move. He said Ross had every reason to believe he could count on public tax dollars.
“Private public partnerships for sports facilities happen all the time, all over the country,” he said.
Here in South Florida, he noted, public tax dollars have been used to build the Miami Heat two arenas in the past twenty years, the Marlins a new ballpark and the NASCAR a speedway in Homestead.
“All of these things were public investment,” he said. “The Dolphins remain the only facility that has not been the beneficiary of a public private partnership.”