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Billionaires face off over Miami stadium renovation
January 18, 2013 / 9:01 PM / in 5 years

Billionaires face off over Miami stadium renovation

* Proposal draws ire of Florida car dealer

* Dolphins seek government help with stadium revamp

* Owner says venue improvements will boost economy

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Real-estate tycoon Stephen Ross is drawing fire from another high-profile Florida billionaire and others opposed to providing tax dollars to renovate the privately owned stadium where his Miami Dolphins football team plays.

“It’s welfare for a multibillionaire,” Norman Braman, a billionaire car dealership mogul who has sworn to defeat the effort, said in an interview. “Ross should write the check himself. According to Forbes, he’s worth $4.4 billion.”

The Dolphins, who are partly owned by singer Jennifer Lopez and tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, are just the latest big professional sports organization to seek government help with facilities around the country.

In 2009, Braman spent more than $1 million to fight a Miami Marlins’ campaign to secure more than $600 million in public funding for a new baseball stadium that opened last year.

Ross this week proposed personally paying $200 million of a $400 million tab to erect a massive canopy for fans and make other improvements at Sun Life Stadium in northern Miami-Dade County.

But he also wants a hike to 7 percent from 6 percent in a lodging tax and bigger sales-tax rebates to pay the balance. Legislation okaying the tax changes has been introduced in the state legislature, which will consider it during a two-month session that begins in March.

Echoing other team owners in the National Football League, the Dolphins argue the improvements are needed to win future Super Bowls and college football championship games that local hotels and other business seek.

“Miami needs to do some work on its stadium if it’s going to get another Super Bowl,” Ross said. “How can we attract these great events and how can Miami be looked at as a world-class city? This all turns into creating jobs.”

Though NFL owners around the country claim large events bring hundreds of millions of dollars into the surrounding communities, some economists argue the impact is vastly overstated.

“A good rule of thumb is to take whatever the promoters of the Super Bowl are saying and move the decimal point one place to the left,” said Victor Matheson, a professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. “The bump tends to be in the $30 (million) to $100 million range, not $300 million to $500 million.”

The Dolphins are just one of many teams to make a case for using tax money to build or renovate arenas.

In May 2012 Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed a bill authorizing a partly bond-financed plan for a $975 million stadium for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, with the team putting up around $477 million.

In Texas, the City of Arlington issued nearly $300 million of bonds to help fund construction of the $1.3 billion Cowboys Stadium, which opened in early 2009.

Yet in Los Angeles, Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns or operates sports and entertainment venues across the country, proposed a 73,000-seat arena in the city’s center without tapping public funds. The Los Angeles City Council in September approved the $1.2 billion project and Anschutz plans to issue $314.6 million in bonds to help fund construction.

“I‘m prepared to do what I think is more than what an owner has done in the past,” Ross said. “There’s only a limit of how much capital that you can put into something.”

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