Another stadium boondoggle
By Carl Hiaasen
Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Here's all you need to know about the Miami Dolphins' outrageous scheme to publicly finance renovations at Sun Life Stadium: Donald Trump thinks it's a great idea. The team features a quote from the ubiquitous gasbag in a big advertisement touting the football stadium makeover.
They've also attacked auto tycoon Norman Braman, who fought a fierce fight against the Marlins Stadium rip-off and is poised to do the same against Sun Life.
The Dolphins insist their stadium package isn't nearly as stinky as the one that produced the new baseball park. They say Sun Life needs $199 million in state money and tourist-tax revenues as part of a $400 million project to upgrade jumbo monitors, reconfigure the seating and construct an open-air canopy.
The team plays only eight times a year at Sun Life, unless it makes the playoffs, but the renovation isn't being done for local fans. The mission is to attract another Super Bowl.
And, just like the Marlins, the Dolphins will do anything to prevent a public referendum on the stadium project. They know it would get crushed at the polls.
The team's only hope is to keep the decision with the politicians, whose judgments can be cosmically affected by lobbyists, campaign donations or VIP treatment in a skybox. That's how the Marlins ballpark got built.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is trying to distance himself from the Marlins debacle in a PR blitz. He proposes using public dollars to finance 49 percent of the football stadium renovations, compared with the 75 percent public funding of the Marlins' stadium and parking garages.
However, the new baseball facility belongs to the public, at least on paper. Ross privately owns Dolphins stadium.
He wants a $3 million annual subsidy from the state's general fund (enough to cover the team's property taxes) and an overall hike in Miami-Dade's mainland hotel tax to 7 percent from 6 percent. That extra 1 percent would go toward remodeling the football stadium. Ross says he'd commit $201 million in private money, although some of that would likely come from the NFL's brimming coffers.
No matter how you dress it up, Braman is right — it's just welfare for billionaires. He speaks from experience, having accepted public funds to add stadium skyboxes in Philadelphia back when he owned the Eagles.
In city after city, tax money has been used to subsidize the sports palaces of wealthy team owners. And one economic study after another shows that the promised windfall never materializes and that state and local governments end up getting shafted. Yet the scam never changes.
Taxpayers are gagging, but guess what? Last week, the Miami-Dade commission voted 9-4 to ask the Legislature to pass a bill launching the Dolphin stadium project.
The resolution is nonbinding, though portentous. The county's already sitting on a dog-pile of debt from the baseball fiasco, yet nine gullible commissioners are ready to take on a football subsidy.
The mayor, Carlos Gimenez, has been instructed to commence negotiations with the team. Gimenez, who won office because of his staunch opposition to the Marlins project, has vowed not to let the Dolphins obtain a similar deal.
There's only one way to make sure that won't happen: Put it on a ballot.
Then let the Dolphins deploy Trump as their campaign spokesman.
Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald.
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