Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has finally revealed his “new approach” to paying for renovations to Sun Life Stadium, and it’s new, all right: He says he’ll pay for a $350 million overhaul if Miami-Dade County exempts him from all county property taxes on the building.
[Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos] Gimenez said Ross, a billionaire real-estate developer, agreed to complete the renovations, then turn over the stadium to county ownership and start reaping the tax savings once the project was completed. Team officials said the plan would bring Sun Life in line with stadiums across Florida, which are publicly owned and exempt from taxes.
Yes, it would, and yes, they are, but that doesn’t make it any less of a public subsidy. As for how much of one, that’s a bit tough to say: The Dolphins’ current annual tax bill is $3.8 million, but that would likely rise with property values; if you assume that rising real estate prices roughly cancel out the devaluation of money that won’t arrive until several years down the pike, then 30 years of property-tax breaks (I’m guessing a 30-year lease, though neither Gimenez nor Ross gave any details about how a lease would be structured — more on that in a moment) would be worth a little over $100 million.
Gimenez calls this “a much better deal than what we were talking about last year,” but given that last year’s plan was for $127 million in county subsidies, it’s actually pretty close to a wash. (Ross would have gotten more up front via hotel taxes under that plan, but also would have had to repay some of it down the road, reducing its value.) And there’s one more wrinkle here that the Miami Herald doesn’t mention: Whereas right now the Dolphins are essentially stuck in Miami because they’d have a white elephant of a stadium to unload if they ever tried to move, with the county taking over ownership of the stadium, they’d be able to leave (or threaten to) the minute their lease was up. And there’s also the small matter of the $232 million in debt the Dolphins still owe on their stadium — I’m assuming Ross would remain on the hook for that, but neither he nor the county has said.
There are still a lot of questions to be answered, in other words. At best, though, this looks like about the same deal that Miami-Dade was looking at last year, and at worst it could be a fair bit worse. But hey, at least Miami could reap the rewards of hosting a Super Bowl! Oh, wait.