The Miami Dolphins have canceled plans to upgrade Sun Life Stadium after the Florida state House of Representatives ended its 2013 legislative session Friday without voting on legislation that would have put the franchise one step closer to securing $380 million in public funding for the renovation project. Had the legislation passed, it would have triggered a May 14 referendum election in which Miami voters would have decided whether to hand their tax dollars to the Dolphins.
The stadium upgrade has been a priority for Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, the billionaire who bought the team in 2008 and wants the renovation to attract future Super Bowls to Miami. But Speaker Will Weatherford (R) ended the session without a vote (it had already passed the state Senate) because, he said, the legislation didn’t have the requisite support for passage. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and particularly those from the Miami-Dade area, Weatherford said, weren’t in favor of it. Dolphins CEO Mike Dee, unsurprisingly, didn’t make it through the weekend without issuing veiled threats to leave South Florida if they didn’t end up with public financing to renovate the stadium, the Palm Beach Post reported:
“We cannot do this without a public-private partnership,” Dee said.
Dee also said the lack of a deal could increase the chances of the Dolphins eventually leaving South Florida. Dee said Ross, who paid an NFL-record $1.1 billion for the Dolphins in 2009, isn’t threatening to move the team, but sources close to Ross, 73, believe he has no intention of passing the team on to his heirs and will sell it within 10 years.
“The Dolphins are one of the only franchises in the NFL that don’t have a long-term lease with their community,” Dee said. “At some point somebody’s going to buy the franchise from Steve, and clearly the stadium is the first thing they would need to address.”
It’s worth noting that Sun Life Stadium (née Joe Robbie Stadium) was built entirely with private funds in 1987, and it has served as a more than capable home of Dolphins, five Super Bowls, and four college football national championship games since. But in this era of publicly-financed stadiums (that almost always hurt taxpayers) and an NFL that requires teams to secure public money before giving owners access to low-interest stadium loans, private financing is unconscionable to owners like Ross.
Dee sent that signal more clearly than any recent owner has: it doesn’t matter that the Dolphins have called Miami home since 1966, longer than 17 of the NFL’s 32 teams have played in their current city. Without public financing, the team doesn’t care — not about taxpayers, particularly not about those who just forked $400 million to the city’s Major League Baseball team two years ago only to see that deal blow up in their faces to the tune of $2.4 billion over the same type of “long-term lease” the Dolphins are now seeking.
“I want this to be my legacy for Miami-Dade County,” Ross said after the legislation failed, according to the Miami Herald. If that’s the legacy Ross wants, he has enough money in his own wallet to ensure it’s the legacy he gets.