Added tax could create $19 million yearly for Miami Dolphins' Sun Life stadium, Miami Beach Convention Center
By Zachary S. Fagenson
The Miami Dolphins' plan to expand a tourist tax to Miami Beach and double the rate countywide could generate $15.7 million annually to fund improvements to the Miami Beach Convention Center and Sun Life Stadium.
Under that plan, an additional $3.5 million could also come from Broward County to help cover the cost of the upgrade.
Team CEO Mike Dee pitched the plan at a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce trustee luncheon last week. The team has been scouring the county in recent months for support.
The first challenge is to pass a bill in Tallahassee that would give local legislatives bodies — county commissions in Miami-Dade and Broward — the ability to increase the professional sports facilities development tax by one percentage point, expand the use of those to revenues to improve convention centers and allow those dollars to be used across county lines.
As one of the major beneficiaries of the Dolphins' economic impact, the team is also looking to Broward to foot part of the bill.
At the chamber luncheon, the team brought out Dolphins legends John Offerdahl, Nat Moore and Dick Anderson donning teal sport coats to drive the effort home.
The broad goal is to ensure that South Florida continues to attract Super Bowls and Bowl Championship Series games while also giving Miami Beach's convention center the revamp that tourism and government officials have sought for years, generating what Mr. Dee said would be billions for the local economy.
The cost of bringing Sun Life Stadium up to snuff to compete with the likes of the recently renovated New Orleans Superdome or the billion-dollar Cowboy Stadium in North Texas is anywhere from $200 million to $225 million, Mr. Dee told the chamber lunch. Upgrades to the Miami Beach Convention are unofficially predicted to cost $600 million to $700 million.
The improvements sought for the stadium include a new canopy, new lower-level seating for an added 3,500 persons, new lights, a new video board and other infrastructure improvements.
Improvements would also be funded in part by a one percentage point increase in Broward County's tourist tax. According to tourism chief Nicki Grossman, Broward's 5% tourism development tax now generates about $7 million per percentage point.
But before anyone can start grabbing for funding or setting to work a long legislative battle remains at hand.
On Jan. 7 state Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami-Dade Republican, filed a bill that if passed would give the two local county commissions the option to make that plan a reality.
At the moment the Professional Sports Franchise Facility tax in Miami-Dade generates about $7.1 million annually. Those funds are dedicated to "paying the debt service for the Marlins stadium," said county Finance Director Jennifer Glazer-Moon.
The tax is collected across Miami-Dade County with the exception of Miami Beach, Surfside and Bal Harbour.
It's a piece of a 6% bed tax collected from tourists' bills. County Manager George Burgess, in financing the Marlins stadium deal's bonds, offered figures in the bond sale estimating the revenues from those taxes to grow 3% to 5% annually.
If the legislation in Tallahassee were to pass and the Miami-Dade County Commission opted to expand and double that 1% tax, all of Miami-Dade County's 47,422 hotel rooms would be subject to it. At the moment, 30,266 rooms in the areas the tax hits generate the $7.1 million. Bringing all county rooms under the tax would increase that figure to about $11.4 million, and increasing it a percentage point would bolster it to about $22.8 million a year.
Subtracting the $7.1 million that now services the Marlins debt, the county would be left with about $15.7 million annually. Half would probably be used to service bond payments for financing the stadium project with half dedicated to convention center improvements.
Many business leaders have said little of the plan, only that they want to see the convention center get its long-sought upgrades.
"The Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association would like to see the already 10-year effort to renovate and expand the Miami Beach Convention Center accelerated and the actual project begun," association President Wendy Kallergis wrote in an e-mail. The association "continues to work with our partners, public and private, to ensure that the expansion and renovation of the [center] moves forward."
Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO William D. Talbert III, an ardent supporter of the convention center revamp, couldn't be reached after Mr. Dee's speech to the chamber. Mr. Dee told the chamber crowd that Mr. Talbert was not on board with the plan.
Mr. Dee is to pitch the plan to the executive board of the Beacon Council, the county's economic development arm, but Flagler Realty Services Vice President Jack Lowell, who is chairing the organization this year, said "it's highly unlikely" the Beacon Council will take a position on the issue but the presentation is good information for its members.
Much of the plan remains unclear.
Ms. Grossman of the Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau described the plan as "Swiss cheesy."
Moreover, Mr. Dee emphasized that the improvements would be a public-private partnership with the Dolphins, principally owned by billionaire real estate mogul Stephen Ross, footing at least part of the bill. No fraction was specified.
"We need to be a contributor to the final phase" of the stadium's improvements, said Mr. Dee, who also cited Mr. Ross's and former owner H. Wayne Huizenga's $300 million investment in stadium improvements in things like luxury boxes.
Yet how much of this "second phase" of improvements the Dolphins would cover is unclear and will remain so until legislation enabling the increase and geographic expansion of the taxes is approved.
"We're trying to be sure we have the opportunity to have those discussions," Mr. Dee said. It's "subject to negotiations and discussions that haven't taken place."
Frost Art Museum draws
60,000 visitors. Read more details about how business activity is going in
South Florida. Subscribe to e-Miami Today.