Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross unveiled a major renovation to Sun Life Stadium on Jan. 14, sitting in front of a bright, wall-sized rendering of the upgrades and telling reporters to forget about a potential referendum asking voters to approve some public funding for the project.
“I mean, that’s really not a possibility,” he said, because the team was setting a tight deadline to have a renovation agreement in place by the time the 50th and 51st Super Bowls were awarded May 22. “There’s no possibility of that happening.”
He was wrong. Less than three months later, Miami-Dade commissioners gave tentative approval to a subsidized renovation to the Miami Gardens stadium — and scheduled a May 14 referendum to give voters a say.
The special election, which will take place only if state lawmakers approve Dolphins-backed legislation, was the first of several hard-fought concessions the Dolphins would make at the request of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in closed-door negotiations. Crucial details, including how much the county would pay and for how long, were not resolved until the last, dramatic two-day marathon negotiation session, according to dealmakers from both sides, who over the past two weeks recounted how the final agreement came together.
They negotiated under the political weight of recent history. The controversial deal to publicly finance most of the Miami Marlins’ new ballpark, approved without a popular vote, loomed over the talks. The Dolphins, who tried to avoid comparisons to the Marlins, and Gimenez, who doggedly opposed the baseball deal, vowed this time would be different.