South Florida businessman Norman Braman is calling the proposed plan to renovate Sun Life Stadium with the public dollars "plain welfare for a multi-billionaire."
He contends that Miami Dolphins owner Shephen Ross’ football team is a private asset and should not receive any public money.
Braman, a billionaire car dealer and civic activist, staunchly opposed the recent Miami Marlins’ stadium deal and was largely responsible for the recall of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez who supported that stadium project.
Even amid lingering taxpayer anger over the Miami Marlins, the Dolphins see a Super Bowl bid within their reach and are pushing forward with a proposal to use hotel tax dollars to renovate their stadium.
The Fins are one of two finalists for Super Bowl L, and they believe modernizing Sun Life stadium will help them snag the coveted championship game.
Tourism Is King
Some local lawmakers and businesses have started to weigh in, saying the 50th Super Bowl will pump lots of money into the South Florida economy.
Endorsements for the proposed deal have been steadily rolling in from some of Miami-Dade’s most prestigious resorts and hotels including the Fountainbleu, Loews Miami Beach and Trump National Doral.
Vice President of operations at Loews hotels, Shawn Hauver, explained it’s not just about money, it’s about exposure for the whole region. For days, he says, national media would broadcast images of a tropical, Florida paradise to a country holed up in the February cold giving unparalleled, free advertising to the local tourism industry.
“I really don’t see any choice to but to modernize the stadium,” said Hauver. “We have to beat out all of the people we used to compete with for Super Bowls and the additional cities that have gone out and built these fabulous stadiums.”
As part of its renovation plan, the Dolphins want Miami-Dade to raise the hotel tax on the mainland from 6 percent to 7 percent to help pay for the stadium improvements.
Senate Bill 306 and House Bill 165, “The Stadium Bill,” would allow just that. The bills are being sponsored by Miami Gardens Sen. D. Oscar Braynon II and Hialeah Rep. R. Eduardo “Eddy” Gonzalez.
The proposed legislation would also give the Dolphins a $3 million rebate on state sales tax and require Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to pay for half of the $400-million-dollar renovation project before the rebate is awarded—something Ross has already committed to do.
Fool Me Once
Braman remembers how the Marlins threatened to leave South Florida for another state if the franchise didn’t get public money to build a new stadium. Braman claims this time is no different, though the threat is different and -- as he sees it -- hollow.
“On this particular case, the sense of urgency is the Super Bowl,” said Braman. “We need the Super Bowl to come here in 2016 which would come, by the way, on the same weekend when we have our boat show here where the hotels are already at 97, 98 percent occupancy.”
University of South Florida sports economist Philip Porter testified in Braman’s 2008 lawsuit to stop public funds from going to the Marlins Stadium.
Porter has examined Super Bowl and non-Super Bowl years in Miami, and he claims the economic impact of big sports teams and events is greatly exaggerated.
“We know how much goods and services you sell,” said Porter. “We know how much tax revenue is collected by the local community, we know how much income is generated in the community. We have all that data. And when we look at the data, we never find any economic impact.”
According to Porter, there are a couple of reasons for this. One, a lot of money leaves the community because it is spent on non-local events, services and merchandise. Two, sports fans crowd out—or displace—residents and other tourists that would normally spend money in the area.
It's The Economy, Stupid.
Rep. Eddy Gonzalez doesn’t buy Porter’s argument. Although Gonzalez admits he is not an economist, he argues that Porter’s claims defy common sense.
“I don’t necessary agree that you’re swapping tourists,” contended Gonzalez. “I just think that those tourists who come for sporting events will stay where they can find the room—may it be on the mainland and not the beach because the beach is packed with tourists.”
But, the economic argument may ultimately be a tough sell to skittish Miami-Dade politicians and residents still smarting from the Marlins deal.
The Dolphins want their plan approved by May, when the NFL will decide where to send Super Bowl L.