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Dolphins: We'll pay back more of stadium tax dollars

With the clock winding down on the Miami Dolphins’ quest for a taxpayer-supported stadium overhaul, the team called an audible Wednesday, announcing new concessions aimed at boosting support for the deal.

At back-to-back a press conferences in Tallahassee and Miami Gardens, the team announced it would be willing to repay much of the taxpayer financing it is seeking after 30 years, including nearly $50 million in state tax rebates.

It’s the most recent of several concessions made by the Dolphins, who are seeking taxpayer help despite the political uproar over publicly-financed stadiums in South Florida. (A widely criticized deal for a new Miami Marlins sparked the recall of former county mayor Carlos Alvarez).

“I hope the opposition sees how willing we are to work to make [the deal] better,” said Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican sponsoring the effort. “And I hope a lot of the people who are opposed will be willing to come on board and help us with this great project for Miami-Dade County.”

Among the concessions: The Dolphins have agreed to keep the team in South Florida for three decades, snag at least one Super Bowl by 2017, allow Miami-Dade voters to decide on whether to raise hotel taxes and, possibly, cover the cost of that referendum vote. The team also offered to pay back much of the funding from hotel taxes and also pay penalties if the new stadium did not attract a certain number of high-profile sports events over the next 30 years.

According to a release from the Dolphins, the team would pay back a total of $167 million, including $120 million to the locals and $47 million to the state.

The Dolphins are hoping Miami-Dade County will raise the mainland hotel tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, to provide funding for a stadium renovation that could cost about $390 million. The team is also requesting up to $90 million in sales tax rebates from the state of Florida.

Juggling negotiations with Miami-Dade County and the state Legislature, the Dolphins are also up against a tight timeline. The team is hoping to get a referendum on the ballot in May. Owners from the National Football League are scheduled to meet May 22 to choose a site for Super Bowl 50, to be held in 2016.

Bill sponsor Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, acknowledged time pressures were a concern, but said he believed the deal could still be done.

The Dolphins’ bill had been cruising along in the Legislature, but things slowed this week, when committees in the House and Senate did not schedule the proposal for a hearing. 

Critics blast the deal as “corporate welfare,” saying billionaire Dolphins owner Stephen Ross should finance the stadium renovation without public help.

"Why do they need interest-free money, whether it's locally or from the state?" said state Rep. Michael Bileca, a Miami Republican. "They can pay for it themselves. We have much more critical priorities."

Auto magnate Norman Braman, an outspoken critic of sports stadium deals, said that even if the Dolphins pay back the taxpayer funds in 2043, it’s a poor deal for taxpayers. He pointed out that the Dolphins would not be paying back the interest associated with the funds, and, accounting for inflation, a payback in 30 years would still leave taxpayers on the hook. 

Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.