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Miami Dolphins say future is ‘bleak’ for their stadium, but don’t expect them to move any time soon


One can only imagine the reaction of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross when the package recently arrived from Silicon Valley.

Inside was an iPad that, when opened, launched a video espousing the virtues of awarding the 50th Super Bowl to the San Francisco 49ers’ new home rather than the other contender for the 2016 game: Miami.

Meanwhile, Houston — having lost to Miami for the 2010 Super Bowl — is taking a low-key approach to Tuesday’s NFL meetings in Boston, where the 32 franchise owners also will pick the 2017 Super site.

The best way to describe the atmosphere in Miami?

Tense.

Failed efforts to obtain funding for $400 million in renovations to Sun Life Stadium not only hurt Miami’s Super bids, they created what the Dolphins call a “bleak” and uncertain future for their current home.

First, a deep breath: The sky is not falling, Dolfans.

“There’s a zero percent chance Steve’s moving the team,” Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said.

“Never, ever, ever, ever,” said Jimmy Cefalo, the voice of the Dolphins who will emcee South Florida’s Super Bowl presentation. “Stephen Ross loves this community. It’s always going to be here.”

It’ll remain here on Ross’ watch. But Ross is 73.

“As he said, he can’t rule from the grave,” Cefalo said. “When he passes, it’s a different decision and he can’t control that.”

The Dolphins were willing to guarantee they would remain in South Florida for 30 years under a proposal for public-private funding of stadium improvements. That effort died May 3 when Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel), speaker of the state House of Representatives, failed to put it up for a vote on the floor, forcing Sun Life’s bid to be in “as-is condition,” Dee said.

Dee hasn’t yet plotted Plan B. Asked if the club would even consider moving to Palm Beach County, he said all options are up for discussion. But a source said Dee intended the comment to apply to South Florida locales in general, that the club has not made overtures regarding Palm Beach and for now is focused on Sun Life Stadium.

Dee said the goal is to have a suitable facility that also would host special events, the Orange Bowl game and University of Miami football. That would present a hurdle for Palm Beach, since it’s questionable whether the Hurricanes would even consider playing so far from Coral Gables.

Ideally, the matter will be settled before Ross sells to someone who might consider, for example, Los Angeles.

“It is very feasible for me to picture 15 years from now, us going to the NFL and saying, ‘Please give us another franchise. Will you let us put one in Miami?’ ” Cefalo said. “If you don’t believe that can happen, talk to the folks in Houston. Talk to the folks in Baltimore.”

South Florida has an important ally.

“We do want to see the Dolphins stay in Miami,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told NFL Network. “We want to see them stay in a facility that will allow them to compete, and to bring in other big events, including Super Bowls.”

Ross is in a jam: Miami still warrants high marks as a Super city, not as a Super facility.

Dee said Ross didn’t recognize the extent of the shortcomings of the stadium when he bought it, nor could he. The Marlins still played there, and Dee said at least one-third of the renovations would be to undo accommodations for baseball, including seats farther from the sidelines than most NFL stadiums.

Since Ross wants to continue to host international soccer matches — which draw well but require wide fields — the likely option would be low-level, retractable seats that are expensive to install. The Dolphins also want permanent high-definition lighting and a canopy to protect fans from the elements.

Ross said Weatherford went back on his word to let the House vote on a bill that would have allowed a special referendum in Miami-Dade County. Weatherford said he never made that promise.

State Rep. Pat Rooney Jr., a Republican from West Palm Beach whose family owns the Pittsburgh Steelers, said he was prepared to vote for the bill simply to give Miami-Dade voters the chance to decide on an increase in the hotel bed tax. He suspected the House vote would have been close.

How things went sour, Rooney said, could have been as simple as a communication breakdown.

Rooney said sometimes, rather than give a definitive answer to those coming to Tallahassee with a request, he might say, “We’ll see what we can do” and promise to have his staff investigate.

“I don’t know if that’s what happened in this case or not,” Rooney said. “… But a lot of times up there, they take that as a definite yes and it just leads to hard feelings.”

Dee, who said he has not since spoken to Weatherford, bristled at the suggestion of a misunderstanding.

“We had assurances that our bill would be heard,” he said. “There’s no misunderstanding from our point of view.”

Marc Ganis, president of SportsCorp Ltd. in Chicago who was a consultant on the Oakland Raiders’ move to Los Angeles in 1982, wondered if politicians “didn’t have enough information or felt it needed to be vetted further.

“Sometimes all sides need to just take a step back, breathe a little bit, absorb the disappointment, then reconnect,” Ganis said.

Rooney, who is president of the Palm Beach Kennel Club, agreed.

“Listen, we’ve been involved with the Legislature for over 35 years from a pari-mutuel standpoint and you have to realize the longer you’re in this that you take real small baby steps with everything,” Rooney said.

There is one monster step South Florida doesn’t want to see: the Dolphins someday loading up the moving van. But pitting one city against another isn’t the option it once was.

Victor A. Matheson, associate professor of economics at Holy Cross who has studied arenas, listed only a few major stadium projects, including Marlins Park, that have begun since the economic downturn.

Still, Matheson said, “If you’re an NFL owner, you are in love with the fact L.A. doesn’t have a team because L.A. is a credible threat for just about any franchise in the country to move.”

Reports in Southern California newspapers last year equated Los Angeles’ bungled stadium and franchise efforts to the flubbed rescues of the castaways on the old “Gilligan’s Island” TV show.

“The market is softer for the NFL than many people would otherwise think,” Ganis said.

Courtship of the Dolphins also could occur among South Florida cities. Sure, the chances of “the Miami Dolphins of Delray Beach” ever existing are slim, but consider that the Patriots play 28 miles from Boston and the 49ers’ future home in Santa Clara, costing $1.2 billion, is 45 miles from San Francisco.

The Dolphins might feel added pressure to remain centrally located, however, because South Florida’s tri-county population is concentrated in a straight geographic line.

For Dolfans, any South Florida location beats “the Los Angeles Dolphins.”

“They’re really endemic to South Florida,” Rooney said.

Not to worry, Dee said. Asked how concerned fans in South Florida ought to be, he replied, “I don’t know if I’d be concerned. I think the one thing that has emerged from this process is I think there’s an understanding that the facility at some point needs to be addressed.”

The Dolphins just hope the other 31 NFL owners don’t address it much in Boston on Tuesday.


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