MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross unveiled a plan to modernize Sun Life Stadium on Monday, and promising to personally cover the majority of the $400 million estimated cost of the project.
The rest would come from tax dollars, and that would likely need approval from both state and local lawmakers. However, Ross said that any public dollars for the project would not result in higher taxes for residents of Miami-Dade County.
Instead, the Dolphins are looking for a slightly higher hotel tax in the county, as well as a larger state sales-tax rebate. And in return for the deal, the Dolphins say the deal would keep them in South Florida through at least 2034, though stopped short of saying that not getting public money would jeopardize the franchise's future.
"There's only a limited amount of capital you can put into something," Ross said, when asked why the Dolphins aren't choosing to fund the entire project.
The Dolphins' hope is to keep the stadium an attractive destination for major events like Super Bowls — such as the game's 50th installment, to come after the 2015 season — and college football's championship games.
They plan to add about 3,600 new seats closer to the field, improved amenities and a canopy roof that would shield fans from the elements of South Florida's often-harsh weather while preserving a natural-grass playing surface.
These plans are not entirely new. When the Miami area lost in the voting to host the 2014 Super Bowl, local tourism officials were even talking then about things like more seats, better sight lines and a 621,000-square-foot roof which many then called an "umbrella," perhaps still mindful of the scene in February 2007 when fans ran for cover as strong rain came down during the Indianapolis-Chicago title game.
"We have the best weather in the winter in this country," Ross said. "We sometimes forget that fact."
The notion of asking for public money comes at a particularly thorny time in South Florida, where many residents were outraged at the deal the Miami Marlins got for their new ballpark.
That $634 million facility opened last year amid great fanfare, and with the Marlins carrying a $112 million payroll. The team finished last in the NL East and dealt away a slew of its top players, including Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. The Marlins — who played at Sun Life until getting their own park — have a projected 2013 payroll of about $45.75 million.
"I would say that the only thing we can control is the way we behave and the way we act and the way we approach the partnership," Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said. "We can't undo what's been done in the past, nor would it be fair for us to opine on what could have been done differently. We live here, so we're aware of the view, aware of the public backlash and we have to go about our business very carefully.
"There is a solution where everybody wins here," Dee added. "There doesn't have to be a winner or a loser in every one of these transactions."
Two of South Florida's major hotels, the Loews Miami Beach and the InterContinental Miami, released statements Monday supporting the Dolphins' plans regarding the stadium.
The Dolphins said the construction deal would result in the creation of about 4,000 jobs, bring international soccer events to the stadium regularly, and create a more comfortable environment for fans. Other amenity improvements would include better lighting and scoreboards.
The Miami Hurricanes, who play their football home games in the 25-year-old stadium, also say they are supporting the plan.
"Every day that goes by, this place gets a day older," Dee said. "What's the long-term future of the Dolphins and the other tenants at this stadium if nothing is done? If we take these steps now and address these needs, we believe this can serve the anchor tenants as well as special events for another quarter-century."