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Sun Life Renovation Plan Moves Forward In House

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - A bill to help renovate Sun Life Stadium got one step closer to the end zone Friday after the House Finance and Tax Subcommittee passed a new sales tax rebate and hotel bed tax for upgrades to the decades old stadium.

The Subcommittee did agree with Governor Rick Scott that at least half of the renovation costs come from private sources and that local voters have to give a final approval of the deal.

The bill's final approval is still far from a certainty as local opposition has been very vocal in protesting the use of local hotel tax money.

"Most of the opposition has come from a couple members in Miami-Dade County, more from the south. For us in the northwest Dade area, I think we have more support when it comes to the people of our community," said Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, the sponsor of the bill.

Some of the opposition comes from reaction to the way the Miami Marlins got their new ballpark. Miami-Dade County is footing the bill for most of the ballpark and its parking facility in part by having borrowed $400 million through bonds sold on Wall Street that are projected to have cost more than $1.2 billion when the final payment is due in 2048.

"Our job is cut out to explain to the residents of Miami-Dade County what it is this one penny bed tax does and how it differs from the Marlins, how much (Dolphins owner) Stephen Ross is going to put in to the deal compared to what the Marlins put into their deal," said Gonzalez, R-Hialeah.

Members of the House Finance and Tax Subcommittee also rejected amendments that would have prohibited a local special election to be quickly held on increasing the local hotel bed tax by a penny; required voters in neighboring counties to also approve any tax breaks; and required Ross – or any other professional team owner receiving sales tax rebates – to return to the state any increased value on the stadium accrued through the renovation work if the team is quickly sold.

"He has every right to sell, but if we through public taxpayer money have increased that value, he should not be able to make money off the so called economic development," said Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, who sponsored several of the amendments.

Bileca noted there is nothing holding back Miami Marlins owner Jeff Loria from selling his club and pocketing the increased value generated by the year-old $634 million Marlins Park that was so heavily backed by taxpayer money.

Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said the way to support the team is to buy tickets to a game and wear a Dolphins jersey, but "not to give a public subsidy."

The Miami Herald on Thursday reported a poll by Florida International University pollster Dario Moreno indicated nearly 73 percent of likely Miami-Dade voters were opposed to the tax-break plan. Norman Braman, a former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles who unsuccessfully sued to halt the Marlins' deal, called the Dolphins bill "corporate welfare."

The stadium is in need of a massive upgrade if it wants to stay competitive in Super Bowl bidding as well as keeping a college football playoff in South Florida.

While South Florida debates the upgrades, the city of Atlanta, Georgia approved a new $1 billion stadium that will be paid for in an 80/20 split with private money paying 80 percent and 20 percent coming from public funds.


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