By Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
Now this is the way a sports team owner should act.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who last year lost his bid to renovate Sun Life Stadium with taxpayer money, now says he will pay for the upgrades out of his own pocket. Given the punch list at the football stadium, he could be on the hook for $350 million to $400 million.
In exchange, Ross is requesting a tax break similar to what most other sports franchises get. He wants Miami-Dade County to become the owner of the stadium and free him from having to pay $3.8 million in annual property taxes.
If ever there were a win-win for South Florida, this is it.
The deal Ross proposes is nothing like the Miami Marlins’ deal, which will forever color the public’s perception of giving tax dollars to a sports team owner. In that case, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria reneged on a promise to field a high-caliber team after securing local tax dollars to build a $600-million ballpark.
Ross’ proposal also is a better deal than what Broward County commissioners are considering with the Florida Panthers. In that case, the new owners say that to remain viable at the publicly owned BB&T Center in Sunrise, they need an increase in the hotel bed-tax subsidy — about $80 million over the next 14 years.
Ross is seeking no government money. He’s simply seeking property tax relief. Given the great public benefit from an enhanced stadium, Miami-Dade county commissioners should quickly do the deal.
As it stands, the Dolphins are the only professional sports team in South Florida that pays property taxes. The Marlins, Miami Heat and Panthers all play at county-owned facilities and so are exempt from property taxes. Plus, these teams receive millions in hotel bed-tax revenues to subsidize operations, something the Dolphins sought last year, though unsuccessfully.
After losing his bid for bed-tax dollars, Ross didn’t snit and sulk, aside from that moment when he talked about politically targeting state lawmakers who had erected roadblocks. Rather, he picked himself up and came back with an offer that is sure to cement his legacy as a community-spirited owner. And he did it at a time when the Dolphins could use an image boost.
In agreeing to fund the renovations himself, Ross is following in some big footsteps. When H. Wayne Huizenga owned the Dolphins a few years back, he similarly agreed to put $300 million of his own money into the stadium to ensure big events kept coming our way.
And who can forget Joe Robbie, the original Dolphins owner, who built the 1987 stadium with his own money?
Ross’ proposal seems so fair that even Miami auto dealer Norman Braman, who led the charge against public funding for Sun Life renovations last year, seems to be on board. So are the stadium’s other tenants, the University of Miami and the Orange Bowl Committee, who know first-hand the urgent and competitive need for stadium upgrades.
With renovations, South Florida would again be in consideration for Super Bowls, with bidding for the 2019 championship game to begin in August. Without the renovations, the region might never get another Super Bowl, despite having successfully hosted a record-tying 10 championship games.
It’s unfortunate that the stadium’s home city of Miami Gardens is resisting the deal, as is the Miami-Dade school system. Both fear losing their cut of the property tax bill, about $1 million each.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has said the team must satisfy these stakeholders, but hints that considerations might be made. The mayor has rightly emphasized his support. “I think the county commission can see the logic in this, and I hope most of the people in Miami-Dade can see the fairness in this,” he told the Miami Herald.
Stephen Ross, the Dolphins community-spirited owner, deserves credit for crafting an enormously fair and workable solution. Now, he deserves a receptive county partner and the public’s full support.
And now other team owners should take notice, and consider following suit.