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Miami-Dade County Approves Deal To Subsidize Stadium Renovations

Matt McGee

The Miami Dolphins can earn millions in tourism tax dollars each year for luring high-profile sports and entertainment events to Sun Life Stadium, according to a deal approved by the Miami-Dade County Commission Tuesday.

As part of the deal, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has agreed to spend $350 million to upgrade the Miami Gardens stadium.

The commission voted 7-4 in favor of the deal.

The Dolphins would get a share of the 3 percent tax charged for local hotel stays.

Different events would earn differing amounts. A Super Bowl or World Cup final would mean the Dolphins get $4 million. A college football championship game would mean $3 million, while a playoff game would earn $2 million. The lowest tier of events -- such as international soccer matches --  would pay $750,000 and would need to sell out.

The deal caps the tax revenue paid to the Dolphins at $5 million per year.

"This is... a performance-based agreement," said Miami-Dade commissioner Barbara Jordan, who represents Miami Gardens and sponsored the proposal. "No events, no payment."

But other commission members said they had to vote against the proposal with the county departments considering cutting positions because of a budget shortfall.

"That's not a good moment to ask us to reward a very successful team and good franchise," Commissioner Xavier Suarez said. Supporters noted the county isn't required to pay the Dolphins anything until 2025.

Other commissioners worried the team would max out the $5 million every year. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said that was unlikely, because major sports events like the Super Bowl and college football championship games rotate among hosts.

Commissioner Esteban "Steve" Bovo said public funding for stadiums is unpopular following the cost of Marlins Park.

"Our community has spoken," Bovo said. "They're not in favor of these kinds of supports."

The deal allows Miami-Dade County to suspend payments to the Dolphins if the hotel taxes don't cover both current expenses and the new Dolphins payments.

Team officials said the stadium, built in 1987, must be renovated to compete again for the NFL's championship game.

The deal also asks -- but does not require -- the Dolphins to hire local contractors and local workers for the renovations.