The Miami Dolphins’ owner and top executive have spent the better part of five days blasting House Speaker Will Weatherford since their bid for public funds to renovate Sun Life Stadium died on the House floor Friday night in Tallahassee.
On Tuesday, Weatherford fired back, denying assertions by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and CEO Mike Dee that he had promised to bring the bill to a vote and expressing significant doubt that the House would have passed it.
“At no point during the process were any promises made to hear the Dolphins Stadium bill on the House floor,” Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel, said in a statement. “It’s no coincidence that we haven’t heard about this so-called commitment until after the bill died.”
The bill would have let Miami-Dade voters decide in a referendum whether to use hotel bed-tax revenues to help fund half of a $400 million stadium renovation project, which the Dolphins said was critical to their chances of hosting future Super Bowls. The Dolphins also wanted $90 million in sales tax rebates from the state over a 30-year period.
Dee had said that Weatherford put political motives ahead of the people’s right to vote.
“We don’t view it as what the Legislature did. We view it as what Will Weatherford did,” Dee said Sunday. “This abuse of power, I believe, will follow his career for a long time.”
Weatherford, 33, said he understood that supporters of the stadium upgrades were disappointed, but “like 700 of the 1100 bills filed this session, it did not have the necessary support for passage.”
The team has canceled all stadium improvement plans, including construction of a canopy over many of the seats to protect fans from sun and rain. The referendum that had been planned for May 14 was called off and the Dolphins will lose the $4.8 million they pledged to the county to pay for the referendum.
Weatherford wasn’t sympathetic to the team’s displeasure about paying for the referendum.
“The feedback from Miami-Dade was negative and there were concerns expressed by members on both sides of the aisle,” Weatherford said. “It’s not the fault of the Florida Legislature that Dolphins’ management failed to win legislative approval to force taxpayers to upgrade Sun Life Stadium after paying for a local referendum. Some would call that putting the cart before the horse.”
Also Tuesday, the Dolphins announced that Ross has made a commitment to the Giving Pledge, a philanthropy initiative started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates.
Families and individuals who participate in the initiative promise to give at least half of their wealth to charity. Ross is worth an estimated $4.4 billion after building his Related Company into an international real estate empire.
A Dolphins spokesman said Ross’ Giving Pledge announcement was planned long in advance and that its timing had nothing to do with the stadium issue.
Statehouse writer John Kennedy contributed to this report.