Now that the Florida Legislature has let a vote lapse that might have passed a hotel tax facilitating up to $380 million in subsidies for Sun Life Stadium, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has gone on the attack. Ross, who has owned the team since 2009, blasted Speaker of the House Will Weatherford. Ross claimed that Weatherford backed out of a promise to let the stadium improvements go to a vote.
Last week, the Dolphins held a job fair at the stadium, while knowing that the project may not go forward.
"Tonight, Speaker Weatherford did far more than just deny the people of Miami Dade the right to vote on an issue critical to the future of our local economy," Ross said Friday in an official team-released 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.
"I am deeply disappointed by the Speaker's decision. 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. It’s hard to understand why he would stop an election already in process and disenfranchise the 40,000 people who have already voted. I can only assume he felt it was in his political interest to do so. Time will tell if that is the case, but I am certain this decision will follow Speaker Weatherford for many years to come."
The decision to refuse a vote seems to have had immediate, and possibly far-reaching, effects on the team. Not only will Sun Life and the Dolphins be on the outside looking in for any future Super Bowl bids without improvements, but team CEO Mike Dee has intimated that the Dolphins aren't a lead-pipe lock to stay in Miami on a no-matter-what basis. While Dee stopped short of saying that Ross might move the team, he told WFOR-TV that another owner might down the road.
"I don't think it's an option for Steve Ross, but for a subsequent owner? The Dolphins are one of the only franchises in the National Football League that do not have a long-term lease with their community."
Dee said that the team wanted $3 million per year for the next 30 years from the state, to which Ross would pledge a 70 percent payment for all the stadium improvements. But the team wants to make it very clear -- without a private-public partnership," as Dee put it, Ross has no intention of putting up his own capital.
The team had already agreed to pay for a May 14 referendum on the vote, and absentee balloting had already begun. The Senate had already approved the tax use, so no matter what you think of public funding for professional sports teams, it would appear that Weatherford went a bit rogue in allowing the vote to drop.
"I think part of the complication was the fact that it wasn't just the Dolphins," Weatherford said last week. "You had five or six different franchises that were looking for a tax rebate, and that's serious public policy. You're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars, and I think the House just never got comfortable there when the session ended."
"We suspect that it's a pure political decision, that [Weatherford is] choosing politics over the right for the voters of Miami-Dade County to decide this issue, and that's a shame."
The Dolphins were going to bid for Super Bowl L in 2016 and Super Bowl LI in 2017 at the upcoming owners meetings, but without any projected outcome for stadium improvements, they might as well not bother. The San Francisco 49ers, who will have a new stadium in Santa Clara, and the Houston Texans, are expected to take the lead in the process.
Still, Ross hasn't given up.
"In the weeks ahead, I will do all I can to convince my fellow owners to bring the Super Bowl back to Miami Dade," Ross said at the end of his statement. "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 ... In addition, I will continue to do all I can to build a winning team for the people of Miami Dade ... I will look to play an important role in fixing the dysfunction in Tallahassee and will continue to work to create good jobs in Miami Dade and throughout South Florida."