christine--king_web.jpgNow that funding the modernization of the Sun Life Stadium is no longer an issue for the voters of Miami-Dade County, perhaps we can look at what our elected officials and Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins, were asking and offering residents of Miami-Dade factually, absent rhetoric, beautiful television commercials, and scare tactics.

On April 10, the elected officials of Miami-Dade County called upon the voters to approve an additional levy on the tourist development room tax. A “YES” vote would also approve the public/private partnership agreement between Miami-Dade County, South Florida Stadium LLC, and Mr. Ross.

Mr. Ross, however, was only personally liable for certain obligations of the agreement, not the entire agreement.

There was no committee review of the agreement or an opportunity for public input although increasing the tourist development tax and approving the agreement would serve a paramount public purpose and was in the best interest of Miami-Dade County.

Not only would Mr. Ross collect $289 million in tourist development taxes; he was also seeking $90 million in sales taxes for a grand total of $379 million for the modernization of Sun Life Stadium, a fraction of which would be paid back — the bulk of the funding being considered an economic development grant. 

In an effort to garner support for the increase in taxes and approval of the agreement, the recipient of the grant, not our elected officials, launched a campaign to educate
voters on the benefits of the agreement.

Promises of Super Bowls, other major sporting events and the creation of jobs were major selling points for supporting the tax increase and the agreement. 

Certainly the modernization of Sun Life Stadium would yield jobs — any major construction project would create jobs  — but does the creation of temporary construction jobs justify a grant for $379 million?

Sun Life Stadium is already attracting other major sporting events, as evidenced by the soccer match between Spain and Haiti to be held on June 8. Have you seen the tremendous billboard off Interstate 95?

The agreement was absent any longterm economic benefits for the black communities in Miami-Dade County. County officials and Mr. Ross, through the public/private partnership, had a unique opportunity to create economic wealth for segments of Miami-Dade communities outside of Miami Gardens.

Areas such as Liberty City, Little Haiti, Hialeah, North Miami, Overtown, or Florida City would not have seen a direct economic benefit from this public/private partnership. Thoughtful consideration or public input would have produced viable options in support of economic development opportunities for all of Miami-Dade County.

Where voters are called upon to support an initiative of paramount public purpose — the county language, not mine — the benefits should be inclusive of all segments of the county. 

A community benefits agreement should be included in any agreement purporting to be an economic engine for Miami-Dade when hundreds of millions of public dollars are used to bankroll the initiative.  

If the modernization of Sun Life Stadium becomes an issue in the future and the voters are once again called upon to support an initiative to raise taxes and approve an agreement which stands to affect the county for years, I hope Miami-Dade officials consider the needs of all of the residents and have the courtesy to seek input from the community prior to developing an agreement so that the entire community would receive a true demonstrable economic return.

Christine M. King, an attorney, is president/CEO of the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corporation in Miami.