Sunday, December 21st, 2014

PolitiFact Florida tackles claims about Miami Dolphins stadium

The Dolphins want a major renovation for Sun Life Stadium.
The Dolphins want a major renovation for Sun Life Stadium.

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross kicked off a whirlwind campaign for public money to renovate the Sun Life stadium in January when he said that a major upgrade was essential to give them a shot at Super Bowls and other major events.

If the project goes forward, it would include new seating, lighting, video boards and a modern canopy-style roof for the 1987 stadium.

Since January, Dolphins ownership has moved quickly to get approval for financing from the state and county for the $350 million renovation. In April, the Dolphins held around the clock marathon negotiating sessions at Miami-Dade County Hall, fueled by Cuban cafecito, to hammer out a deal with County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Now the team has until May 3 to convince the state Legislature to approve $90 million in state sales tax rebates over 30 years and allow an increase in the mainland Miami hotel bed tax -- about $289 million over 26 years. The team would reimburse the state and county about $159 million after three decades. Private funds from the Dolphins and the NFL would cover more than half the costs.

If the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott sign off on the project, Miami-Dade voters will decide whether they want to allow tourist room taxes to go to the renovation in a May 14 referendum financed by the Dolphins. Absentee and early voting started in April.

The Miami Dolphins and the company owned by Ross, South Florida Stadium LLC, formed a political action committee to convince Miami-Dade voters to approve the financing. The Friends of Miami First PAC raised $1 million in just under three weeks in April and has spent about $347,000 on advertising and phone calls to voters, according to a report filed April 26.

The most vocal opponent, Miami auto magnate Norman Braman, has focused his efforts on lobbying state lawmakers. A Miami political consultant made robocalls to voters in English and Spanish urging them to reject the Dolphins’ deal.

PolitiFact Florida has fact-checked three claims related to the Dolphins stadium deal.

Dolphins lobbyist Ron Book told state legislators at a hearing in March that "Super Bowl L by everybody's estimation is a $500 million economic impact to the state of Florida." We rated that claim False. By "everybody," Book meant a study paid for by the Super Bowl Host Committee. That study  looked at spending during a Super Bowl week in 2007, without accounting for usual economic activity. Economics professors argue that studies by boosters routinely inflate costs and fail to take into account net costs or fully account for the fact that some spending locally is sent to corporate chains.

Gimenez said at a county meeting in April "as far as I know, the Dolphins are the only NFL team in the entire nation that pays property taxes." We ruled that claim False -- the Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins pay property taxes.

We also fact-checked a Miami First mailer that said the Dolphins stadium renovation will "create more than 4,000 new local jobs." We rated that Half True. The jobs are temporary, and the estimate is based on a previous project, not the current one.

We’re not picking on football here. The much criticized deal for the Marlins baseball stadium has often been cited during the debate about the Dolphins’ quest for money. We fact-checked a claim by Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria about the source of funding for the Marlins stadium. He said the majority of the funding for the park came from tourists, but we rated that statement Half True.

And if you missed the endless hours of press conferences and hearings about the stadium plan, here’s a fun way to get up to speed: the Miami Herald’s radio news partner WLRN held a Remix the News Challenge which led to this video mash-up.