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  Ross May Sell Stadium to Gain Needed Improvements
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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In the wake of the NFL’s declaration that Land Shark Stadium would need millions of dollars in renovations to host future Super Bowls, Phins.com has learned that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is considering public options to fund the needed improvements, up to and including sale of the stadium to a third party, perhaps even local government.


In a story first reported by ESPN’s Hank Goldberg, Ross and his representatives are exploring options to sell the stadium which could include local government. One approach is that a buyer would fund the improvements and then do a lease back to the users of the stadium. Major tenants of the stadium today include the Dolphins, Florida Marlins, the University of Miami, and the Orange Bowl Committee.


While no deal has been reached, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee confirmed to Phins.com that all options remain on the table.


“This (project) is a community impact”, Dee said. “The truth is that the Dolphins, or any franchise that hosts the Super Bowl, really doesn’t benefit a great deal economically from the Super Bowl being here.”


“This is not our game. As soon as the season’s over, we toss the keys to the facility to the NFL and to Homeland Security. The major winners in this is the community from an economic perspective, over $300 million for the 2007 Super Bowl in direct spending and $500 million in direct and indirect spending to the region. The BCS Championship was about 50% of that.”


Dee doesn’t deny that the Dolphins gain some measure of benefit from the Super Bowl, but doesn’t believe that the gains outweigh the investment that Ross would have to make. Given that Ross has already committed about a billion dollars in acquiring the team and stadium, it could be that his tolerance for further major investment is low, especially given the current economic environment.


“Are there benefits to (us)? Sure”, Dee noted. “Anything that’s good for football in South Florida is good for the Dolphins. But this is a community partnership, and we’re in active discussions with parts of the community. This isn’t just about us. It’s about business and South Florida.”


Dee confirmed that two of the organizations that the Dolphins have already met with are the Super Bowl Host Committee and the Chamber of Commerce, presumably to gain public support for exploring a third party sale. Indications are that the Dolphins gained some traction in those discussions.


“This game's awarded to the community, not the Dolphins”, Super Bowl Host Committee chairman Rodney Barreto told The Miami Herald. “The community needs to come together and ask, `Is this important to us?'. A $450 million economic impact in South Florida is important to me. As I told the governor, `We've had three Super Bowls in the last four years [five seasons] in Florida. That's over a billion dollars of economic impact to a tourist state. We're a tourist state. Our beaches, our hotels, our restaurants -- these are what drive us in South Florida. We as a community have to get together with the ownership and the NFL and ask, `Do we want to keep doing this?' “


The implications of a public sale are clear in that bonds or tax increases would have to be explored in order to pay for the needed improvements. The cost of these funding options is often passed to the public in terms of higher taxes or ticket prices.


Dee said he wasn’t sure yet as to the outcome of the discussions, but hopes that there wouldn’t be an impact to the public cost-wise.


“I don’t know. I hope not”, Dee said in response to concerns that fans could face higher prices or taxes.


“What we want to do is find a way to make the stadium competitive, not only to compete for Super Bowls but to make the stadium competitive from a Dolphins perspective for many years to come. We’re in a master planning stage. We’re not at a point where we even know what it’s going to cost, so I can’t tell you how we’re going to pay for it. Our goal is to do it in a way that gets it done and is in everybody’s best interest.”


Up to now, the Dolphins have privately funded capital projects associated with the stadium. Joe Robbie completed the construction of the facility for about $115 million in 1987, the first of its kind to be constructed entirely with private funds. Acquiring total ownership of the stadium from the Robbie family in 1994, H. Wayne Huizenga poured over $250 million into major improvements and renovations.


Huizenga sold 95% of the stadium to Ross in January 2009.

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