The Dolphins’ bid to receive public funding to renovate Sun Life Stadium died on the floor of the state capitol Friday evening.
Almost certainly, too, did their chances of hosting a Super Bowl in the near future.
The defeat drew a strong reaction from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who criticized “dysfunction in Tallahassee” and expressed dismay at House Speaker Will Weatherford, who Ross said went back on his word by not bringing the matter to a vote.
Despite using heavy hitters such as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino this week to lobby for them, the Dolphins were unable to persuade state lawmakers before Friday’s end of the legislative session to pass a bill that would have potentially provided the team with $289 million in tax funds to renovate the stadium.
The Dolphins are finalists to host Super Bowls 50 and 51, both of which will be voted upon by NFL owners May 21 in Boston, but now are a long-shot to win either bid, or any future game.
They are competing with San Francisco for No. 50 in February 2016, with the loser facing Houston for No. 51. The 49ers have a $1.2 billion stadium opening in Santa Clara in 2014, and Houston’s Reliant Stadium has a retractable roof and opened in 2002.
The bill passed easily in the Senate but faced much stiffer competition on the House floor, including from Weatherford.
“He gave me and many others his word that this legislation would go to the floor of the House for a vote, where I know, and he knows, we had the votes to win by a margin as large as we did in the Senate,” Ross said in a statement.
“The Speaker singlehandedly put the future of Super Bowls and other big events at risk for Miami-Dade and for all of Florida. He put politics before the people and the 4,000 jobs this project would have created for Miami-Dade, and that is just wrong.”
The Dolphins have repeatedly said they likely won’t receive a Super Bowl bid until they upgrade the stadium, and several NFL owners agree. The Dolphins want to build a canopy over the stands at the stadium, which opened in 1987, and also want to improve sight lines and video boards as part of a $400 million renovation.
South Florida has hosted an NFL-record 10 Super Bowls but has seen increased recent competition from cities with new, taxpayer-funded stadiums.
“Without the stadium improvements, I don’t believe there’s a high likelihood that Florida’s going to get it,” Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said in March.
Another warm-weather city, San Diego, has been removed from the Super Bowl rotation because it refuses to update Qualcomm Stadium with public funds.
“San Diego turned its back on the Super Bowl and hasn’t hosted one since (2003),” said Rodney Barreto, chairman of the South Florida Super Bowl Bid Committee. “I only hope the events in Florida today have not sentenced Florida to a similar fate.”
The Dolphins had asked lawmakers to raise the cap on the Miami-Dade hotel bed tax from 6 to 7 percent to help pay for improvements. The club also was trying to win $90 million in state tax rebates over 30 years.
A Miami-Dade referendum on the hotel bed tax was to be held May 14 but now will be called off because the bill in Tallahassee was not approved.
The Dolphins had pledged to stay in South Florida for 30 years if the public funding were granted, but now it is unclear what the future now holds for the Dolphins and Sun Life Stadium – and if Ross, worth $4.3 billion, according to Forbes, plans to fund any renovations himself. He had hoped to foot half the cost.
All Ross said Friday night was that he still plans to pursue Super Bowls 50 and 51, however much of a long shot they may be.
“In the weeks ahead, I will do all I can to convince my fellow owners to bring the Super Bowl back to Miami-Dade,” he said. “The Bid Committee has done a tremendous job to give us a great shot, and my only hope is that it is enough to overcome the terrible message Speaker Weatherford has sent to the NFL tonight.”