MIAMI GARDENS – Opponents of public funding for renovating Sun Life Stadium without specific benefits for the black community see the collapse of the plan through state legislative inaction as an opportunity to consolidate their efforts for the future. “We need to do a better job of coming together,” said Betty T. Ferguson, former Miami-Dade County commissioner.
She is calling on the community to work together to “create a master plan based on what we have put together.”
“It’s us that we need to work on,” said Ferguson, who, with her husband Wilkie unsuccessfully battled then Dolphins owner Joe Robbie when he
decided to build the stadium in their neighborhood in the 1980s.
Not coming together and hammering a blueprint for progress, Ferguson said, will continue to leave Miami-Dade’s black community vulnerable to the whims and machinations of better organized outside forces. “When it comes to real decision making, we’re not there,” she said.
Christine King, executive director of the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corporation (MLKEDC), is hopeful that at least now a dialogue will take place.
King’s agency had prepared a “Community Benefit Agreement” to be part of any contract between Miami-Dade County and South Florida Stadium LLC for the use of a proposed penny increase in the hotel bed tax to help finance renovations of the stadium.
King said that proposal hit a brick wall with both the county and stadium officials.
The state of play for the stadium upgrade is now uncertain after the Florida House failed to take up a bill – passed by the Florida Senate – authorizing the use of tax credits for the stadium plan.
With the measure dead in the House, Miami-Dade County officials found themselves in the awkward position of having to call off a May 14 referendum – for which early voting had already started.
Voters were being asked whether they wanted to hike the hotel bed tax by a penny to raise around $289 million over 26 years for the stadium upgrade, of which less than half would be repaid.
As of midweek, there was no indication as to why the measure was allowed to lapse in the House.
Supporters and opponents of the plan were equally surprised.
Supporters, including stadium owner Stephen Ross, put the blame squarely on Speaker Will Weatherford for not bringing it to the floor for a vote. He has responded saying the bill lacked support.
Attorney H. T. Smith, a co-chairman of Friends of Miami First, a political action committee created two months ago to push the stadium plan, said he felt blindsided.
Smith, a $20,000 paid co-chairman with the committee, said “We were surprised because the speaker had given his word” that the measure was going to be voted on in the House, Smith told the South Florida Times.
Smith said the outcome of a House vote had never really been in doubt.
“We counted the votes, we had enough,” said Smith.
He said supporters of the plan had obtained pledges from at least 84 state representatives who had “committed to support” it.
King also was stunned by the development.
“My initial reaction was disbelief,” said King. “I was surprised that there was no debate.”
There was no indication of the next step for Ross. Some reports have quoted him as casting doubts on the future of the Dolphins, which he also owns, in Miami-Dade.
His top lieutenant, Mike Dee, has ruled out any renovations to the stadium without some public funding.
Ross and Dee have estimated the overall cost of the renovations at some $400 million. They have said before and after the Legislature debacle that the absence of tax dollars is a non-starter.
Smith said the immediate concern of Miami First and the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee is to persuade the National Football League to award Super Bowl 50 to Sun Life Stadium when decision time comes on May 22 – which could be a hard sell without indications that the renovations will take place.
Former Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson is optimistic that the upgrade will take place.
“I don’t see that it is all doom and gloom,” Gibson said.