Without tax dollars at his disposal, how much money will Stephen Ross spend on Sun Life Stadium?
That’s the question looming over the billionaire owner of the Miami Dolphins in the wake of the Florida Legislature denying his request for both state and county dollars to fund about 45 percent upfront of a $350 million stadium renovation. The team claims the 1987 stadium will be rendered all but unusable in the next five to 10 years without a major rehab, including removing the former Florida Marlins dugouts. Ross’s top aide last week said public dollars were mandatory for the project to proceed.
“I was asked was there a chance Mr. Ross will go forward without a private-public partnership,’’ Dolphins CEO Mike Dee told reporters on April 26. “My answer was no.” In April, Ross told CBS 4 of the Tallahassee bill: “If it stumbles... there won’t be a renovation.”
While Ross has preemptively rejected funding the full $350 million project — which included a canopy to shield the seats from sun and rain — he has not said whether a more modest renovation is possible. One portion of the proposal involved ripping out about 9,000 cheap seats in the top rows of the stadium and adding about 3,000 pricier ones near the field.
Those changes would reduce Sun Life’s capacity by 13 percent to about 65,000, which could help the Dolphins avoid television blackouts that the NFL imposes when the stadium has too many seats to sell on game day.
“He needs to look at the [upgrades] that will pay for themselves’’ said John Vrooman, a Vanderbilt University economics professor who studies stadiums. “I don’t think the roof is going to pay for itself. Cutting back on the marginal seats in the upper deck...creates excess demand [and] inflates the prices for the other seats. That is a positive move” for Ross.