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Dolphins to make stadium upgrade case Monday

The Dolphins Monday plan their grand unveiling of a plan to make between $350-$400 million worth of upgrades to Sun Life Stadium to, as the team claims, make the facility a first-class place for the next 30 years.

The Dolphins are calling this "a modernization" of the facility that opened in 1987.

And here's an unexpected kicker: Ross is prepared to pay for "substantially all" of the freight of this modernization as long as his government partners begin helping him with the cost of running the facility. This according to a source familiar with the Dolphins' thinking.

That's a big deal.

But despite this, the team faces an uphill battle. Local sentiment runs very much against using tax dollars to upgade or update private sports facilities -- particularly in the wake of the Marlins deal with Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami, which proved to be frought with broken promises and misdirection.

The Dolphins privately claim they are not the Marlins. Not even close.

Today, in fact, they will call themselves "a different kind of fish," while not publicly naming the Marlins.

Privately, they make the point they are going to put up a significant portion of the price tag themselves. Even  If Ross doesn't get the lease concessions from the politicians, he's willing to pay between $150-$175 million, although that pricetag would have to be negotiated out. In that scenario, the club believes that with owner Stephen Ross is putting up approximately 40-50 percent of the cost to improve the facility, local politicians will still see this as a palatable partnership.

There's also this: The tax dollars aren't coming out of the pockets of local taxpayers. The public side of the funding in the deal is expected to come from a hotel bed tax. The Dolphins will ask local politicians to raise the tax tourists pay for staying at local hotels.

The Dolphins will argue that none of these funds take money out of city or county coffers that are used to pay for teachers or schools or cops or firemen. Hotel bed tax money is slated exclusively for the improvement of local facilities such as the Miami Beach Convention Center and, yes, Sun Life Stadium among others.

So what's the trade-off?

The Dolphins say making this modernization to Sun Life will help attract events such as Super Bowl 50 and the BCS national title game to town. That, they say, is a boon to the local economy. Although the team will continue to back local Super Bowl bids regardless of whether this project goes through or not, the fact is the NFL has recently reserved Super Bowl awards to communities that have either built new stadiums (Indy, Houston, New York) or upgraded their current stadium (New Orleans).

(South Florida is in the running with a new stadium going up in Santa Clara for the 49ers for the rights to Super Bowl 50).

The Dolphins also believe upgrades will give their facility more of a homefield advantage for them as well as the University of Miami football team, which also plays its home games at Sun Life. Part of the proposed upgrades include bringing seats closer to the field to improve sight lines and increase crowd noise. Sun Life currently has the highest percentage of fans sitting in the upper deck of practically any other facility in the NFL. The team wants to cut that number while adding seats closer to the field.

The upgrades would also include a newer version to the old canopy roof proposal the team made previously.

There will be pushback among some locals. Those folks are still stung by the Marlins deal that basically funded 75-80 percent of the new Marlins Park at the old Orange Bowl site. The Marlins are on the hook for only 15-20 percent of that project.

The Marlins got that deal, in part, by saying they were losing money. They nonetheless refused to show officials their books and it was later learned the club was making money.

The Marlins got that deal, in part, by promising to put a top-flight lineup on the field after spending years cutting salaries, even at the expense of trading great talents for inferior, younger, cheaper talent. They did that for one year. And this offseason they've gone back to cutting salaries.

The Dolphins obviously will counter this by showing that Ross will be highly invested in this venture, and indeed, nearly fully invested if he gets lease concessions. And the club can make the point that unlike a professional baseball team, the NFL's collective bargaining agreement calls for a salary cap.

That salary cap contains both a ceiling as everyone knows, but also has a floor which prevents teams from conducting talent fire sales to cut costs.

And then there is the giant elephant in the room. Ready?

If the Dolphins do not get the modernization they're hoping for, they will continue to play at Sun Life as is. And they will continue to do so as long as Stephen Ross is the owner.

But ...

Ross is 72 years old now. He eventually will sell the team. And although he would like to sell it to someone who will keep the team in South Florida, the truth is there is no guarantee he will do that.

He may sell to someone who wishes to move the team. Yes, the NFL would frown upon this but NFL teams do move. (St. Louis, Cleveland, Oakland, Arizona among them).

And the Dolphins, unlike practically all other NFL teams, currently have no lease holding them to their home stadium and thus their hometown. So basically, nothing is tying the Dolphins to South Florida other than tradition and ownership.

Therefore, it might be wise for South Florida politicos that if they do this deal to indeed let Ross pay for, again, "practically all" of the project and also tie the Dolphins to the region and the stadium that is being upgraded. I'd suggest a 30-year tie, which is approximately the length of time the club is saying the upgrades will keep Sun Life contemporary.

Would that cost local government in having to help run the facility? Yes. Will that require funds? Yes. Might that require tax dollars for operating subsidies? Yes.

The Miami Heat have a similar arrangement.

This is a big deal for the team and it comes on a big date: Today is January 14, 2013. It is the 40-year anniversary to the day of Miami winning Super Bowl VII and completing a perfect season.