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Voters to decide Miami Dolphins bid for stadium help

By Zachary Fagenson

(Reuters) - Voters in south Florida's Miami-Dade County will soon decide if billionaire real estate developer Stephen Ross can tap local hotel taxes to help pay for a $350 million upgrade to the stadium used by his Miami Dolphins.

County legislators on Wednesday approved a May 14 referendum asking Miami-Dade to increase a lodging tax to 7 percent from 6 percent. The added hotel taxes would back a municipal bond offering by the county to overhaul Sun Life Stadium.

After the vote, Florida's legislators must also approve any increase of the tax voters may approve.

Battling a May 22 deadline for Miami to be considered as a host for the 50th Super Bowl in 2016, the Dolphins and Miami-Dade County officials struck a deal Tuesday that calls for the National Football League team to receive $7.5 million in county hotel taxes annually for 26 years.

Ross has said the Dolphins, in which he holds a 95 percent stake, would pay $191 million of the $350 million project and argued an improved stadium was key to attracting high-profile events. Miami has hosted 10 Super Bowl championships.

To fund the project, the team could also ask for as much as a $200 million loan from the NFL. Dolphins spokesman Eric Jotkoff wasn't immediately available Wednesday to discuss whether the team is pursuing league funds.

An NFL loan would need to be approved by 24 of the league's 32 teams, according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.

As part of the agreement with Miami-Dade officials, Ross and the Dolphins pledged to pay the $5 million cost of a special election and to keep the team in Miami for the next 30 years should the deal and tax come to fruition.

Ross also agreed to pay a $20 million fine if he sold the team in the next five years. Any new owner would have to have a net worth greater than $1 billion and would assume all of the team's existing obligations.

The agreement also requires the team to repay the county $112 million to $120 million after 30 years.

In hopes of securing Super Bowl 50, the Dolphins have pushed for the deal to be done before a May 22 meeting that will decide whether the 2016 game will be in Miami or San Francisco.

(Additional reporting and writing by Michael Connor in Miami; Editing by Todd Eastham)

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