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Mike Dee counters why stadium upgrades make sense

The last post gave reasons, unsophisticated though they may have been, why adding a roof to Sun Life Stadium and performing other significant upgrades bothers me if the bill is paid by someone other than Dolphins and stadium owner Stephen Ross.

Well, the post bothered the Dolphins.

I got a call from media relations senior vice president Harvey Greene telling me A. I am stupid. B. I am wrong on the topic. C. That club Chief Executive Officer Mike Dee wanted an opportunity to speak with me so he could explain why I'm stupid and wrong.

Seriously, the idea that Dee wanted an opportunity to explain the club's view on the matter is the real reason the Dolphins were calling. So I spoke with Dee for 35 minutes and he gave the club's viewpoint on the Sun Life Stadium upgrades issue.

What follows, in the spirit of fairness, is a Dolphins' take:

The club is working feverishly to gain the ability to tap local tourist bed tax dollars tied to hotel stays in an effort to upgrade Sun Life and other facilities in South Florida.

To correct the record, I said in the previous post that the New Orleans Superdome, built in 1975, has been awarded a Super Bowl coming up. It should be added that Louisiana is pouring between $300-$400 million in upgrades into that stadium. Also, the amount of money the Dolphins need for their upgrades here is $200 million, not the previously stated $250 million.

That money would go toward upgrading the stadium's orginal 1987 lighting that has to be improved for the benefit of modern television technology. The money would go toward upgrading what Dee terms as an "inadequate" video system infrastructure. The money would bring a number of seats 18 feet closer to the field and add 3,500 seats, thereby increasing the number of seats between the goal lines and probably making the place louder -- seemingly creating a football game experience superior to the one fans gets now.

The money also would go, most notably, toward buidling a canopy-type roof over the stadium that would guard fans against the elements while still allowing the playing surface to remain out in the elements.

"Doing all those things would bring us just above the Mendoza line, or in the zip code of where we need to be as a facility capable of attracting Super Bowl and BCS title games," Dee said.

The upgrades would also add approximately 30 years of shelf life to Sun Life Stadium, Dee said.

Understand that Sun Life is the only dual purpose facility that regularly competes for Super Bowls. Understand that the BCS contract expires in 2013. The upgrades, Dee says, would bring the facility more closely in line with its Super Bowl competitors and increase South Florida's chances of staying in the mix for BCS title games.

"The landscape is changing and it has us concerned," Dee said. "Facilities have come online that are newer and perhaps more attractive to the NFL. Dallas is going to be competing for Super Bowls over the longterm. It won't be a one-off award to Dallas. They’re already gearing up bids for 2015, 2016. They're also interested in attracting the BCS.

"New stadium competition today is far greater than it was in the 80s. We take the possibility that we could be out of the Super Bowl rotation as real. Even if we wanted to get a Super Bowl every eight to 10 years, taking the view we’re just like Tampa and we can make due with the way things are or doing minor upgrades, there's a good chance we might not get those games. We don't want to take that approach without debating the potential consequences with the community."

The approach the Dolphins want to see South Florida take is that the league's biggest game comes to town perhaps every four to five years.

And, Dee makes the point, that will not happen unless Sun Life is upgraded. 

The construction of the original Joe Robbie Stadium was done through private funds in the 1980s. Three years ago, then owner H. Wayne Huizenga invested $250 million in upgrades, primarily to the club level and concourses, but did not attend to the greater needs outlined above. 

So I asked what I think is the most pertinent question: Why doesn't Ross pay for the upgrades to his stadium?

"It's well documented what we paid for the franchise," Dee said. "I don’t want to go into details now but we are willing to share once the process goes forward. Basically we're dealing with constraints the NFL places on ownership as to the amount of debt you can take on."

Dee made the point the current stadium debt is $235 million. The debt on the franchise sale is significant. Ross, it seems, is working under a budget partially placed on him by the league. And paying $200 million for upgrades would be over his budget.

Dee said that doesn't mean Ross isn't willing to make this a public-private venture. Although he declined to say how much Ross would be willing to contribute, he said that figure has been shared with investors and they are apparently comfortable with the figures.

They are eight-figure numbers.

"It's a significant investment," Dee said.

The Dolphins have state legislators working with them. Bills have already been referenced to committees that would raise local bed taxes levels from the current six percent cap. If the legislation fails, the issue is dead for the time being. Obviously it would not be brought back up until the 2012 legislative session at the earliest.

If the legislation passes in Tallahassee, the Dolphins move on to the next step: Getting local politicians to approve.

"We're trying to bring the conversation to the table locally," Dee said. "We would do it in as transparent a way as possible. Even those that oppose us say we’re doing it with all our cards face up on the table."

Dee said there would be town hall meetings, open houses, and public hearings on the issue. "It would be a process to make the public aware of what's at stake," he said.

There would not, however, be a ballot measure put to the voters for an up or down vote. The measure would be decided by the politicians the voters elected.

The Dolphins are fighting this legislative fight and, results notwithstanding, vow to continue bidding on Super Bowls that bring a financial benefit to South Florida. South Florida has already submitted its interest to bid on the 2015 game.

"We’re not going to stop going after Super Bowls," Dee said. "We’re going to go after them as much as the community wants us to go after them."

But that comes with a warning. If future bids don't include a stadium that has undergone significant upgrades -- upgrades the Dolphins want financed through a public-private partnership -- the chances of succeeding in getting future games decline.

That's why making the public portion of this venture a reality is important, Dee said. That's why failure would be problematic.

"It would be disappointing if we're not successful," Dee said. "We're prepared to live with that. But unlike others, we're not saying we're going anywhere. We’re going to be here. We've been here 45-plus years. We're going to continue being part of this community even if the upgrades don't happen. That doesn't make South Florida not a great place. It would just make it a place that doesn’t host big events as regularly as we've come to expect."

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