Miami Dolphins: No stadium improvements without public funds

Two days later, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee was still feeling raw about Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford helping to block the team’s bid to get public financing to upgrade Sun Life Stadium.

Appearing Sunday morning on Miami’s CBS affiliate, Dee said all renovation plans have been canceled and that the long-term future of the team could be in jeopardy. And he continued to criticize Weatherford (R-Pasco), who did not bring the Dolphins’ stadium bill to a vote before the legislative session ended Friday evening.

The team wanted the Legislature to lift the 6 percent cap on the Miami-Dade hotel bed tax and let that county’s voters decide in a referendum whether to raise it to 7 percent to fund stadium improvements.

“Unfortunately for all of us, Speaker Weatherford decided that it was his vote that mattered, and deprived the voters of Miami-Dade County the right to do just that,” Dee said. “We don’t view it as what the Legislature did. We view it as what Will Weatherford did.

“At the end of the day, this abuse of power, I believe, will follow his career for a long time.”

The Dolphins also were asking the Legislature to approve $90 million in sales tax rebates for the team over a 30-year period. All told, the Dolphins were seeking public funds to cover about half of the cost of a $400 million stadium renovation, which was to include a canopy over the seats.

The state Senate approved the bill 35-4. Had the House OKd it, the referendum would have been May 14.

But now there will be no vote, and the team’s chances of landing Super Bowl 50 or 51 are grim. The Dolphins will compete against San Francisco for the right to host Super Bowl 50 in February 2016, and the loser will face Houston for Super Bowl 51. Both votes will take place May 21 in Boston, and the Dolphins’ bid was largely tied to their ability to get publicly-financed stadium renovations.

Dee said the Dolphins have “no intention” of making any improvements to the stadium in the short-term, and won’t scale back the proposed renovation to something more affordable. Sun Life Stadium opened in 1987 and is the sixth-oldest NFL stadium among those that have not had significant renovations.

“We cannot do this without a public-private partnership,” Dee said.

Dee also said the lack of a deal could increase the chances of the Dolphins eventually leaving South Florida. Dee said Ross, who paid an NFL-record $1.1 billion for the Dolphins in 2009, isn’t threatening to move the team, but sources close to Ross, 73, believe he has no intention of passing the team on to his heirs and will sell it within 10 years.

“The Dolphins are one of the only franchises in the NFL that don’t have a long-term lease with their community,” Dee said. “At some point somebody’s going to buy the franchise from Steve, and clearly the stadium is the first thing they would need to address.”

Dee said that Weatherford reneged on a promise to bring the stadium bill to the House floor.

“On no fewer than four occasions were we told directly from Speaker Weatherford, ‘Your bill deserves a chance to be heard,’ ” Dee said. “Clearly something happened late in the process that caused him to change his mind.”

Friday night, Ross lashed out at Weatherford, vowing to “fix the dysfunction” of Tallahassee and questioning Weatherford’s political motives. Ross is a major Republican donor and last year held a fundraiser for former presidential candidate Mitt Romney at his Palm Beach mansion.

Sunday, Dee similarly criticized Weatherford, who is 33 and a rising star in the Florida Republican party.

“He is a young guy in a big position with big aspirations,” Dee said. “We suspect it was a political decision, that he’s choosing politics over the right for the voters of Miami-Dade County to decide this issue.

“How can one person’s opinion, a guy from Pasco County, decide the future of big events, jobs and economic development here in South Florida?”

The Miami Herald asked Weatherford his reaction if Ross or his supporters decided to spend money to campaign against him.

“Good for them,” Weatherford said.

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