Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has offered to pay the entire tab for up to $400 million in stadium renovations in exchange for a property tax break.
The upgrades would help keep South Florida competitive in bidding for Super Bowls and college football's championship games.
Stymied last year in his efforts to secure public money, Ross has agreed to pay for the project himself, two people familiar with the situation said Monday. Both people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the billionaire hasn't spoken publicly about his new financing plan.
Ross seeks $2 million to $4 million a year in property tax reductions and would continue to pay some property taxes, one of the people said. Ross has discussed his proposal with Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who said obstacles to a deal remain.
"We agree that unless renovations are made to Sun Life Stadium, Miami-Dade County will lose the opportunity to host another Super Bowl," Gimenez said in a statement. "Mr. Ross' proposal is better than last year's. However, there are still hurdles that the Dolphins organization must overcome before I feel comfortable with the proposal."
Renovations would include a partial canopy to shade seats that are now exposed, installing new seats and moving others closer to the field, and upgrading the club level. Until now, Ross was unwilling to foot the entire bill, although he said improvements to the 27-year-old multipurpose stadium were badly needed to bring the Super Bowl back to Miami.
Rodney Barreto, chairman of the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee, applauded Ross' change of heart and said the owner's request for property tax relief was reasonable.
"I'm overwhelmed," Barreto said. "It's fantastic and unprecedented. Mr. Ross is stepping up big time. The guy is going to write a $400 million check. This puts us back into contention, no doubt."
The NFL declined to comment.
Ross, 73, is a New York real estate developer with an estimated net worth of $5.4 billion. But last year the Dolphins said stadium upgrades were impossible without public money, because they were heavily in debt and one of the NFL's most-leveraged teams.
When Ross sought up to $379 million in county and state money for the project, his proposal was rejected by the Legislature. That removed South Florida from contention for the 50th Super Bowl.
There was local resistance to using tax money for the upgrades, in part because many South Floridians remain upset about the public financing of the Miami Marlins' ballpark, which opened two years ago.
Norman Braman, who has been one of the most vocal opponents of public funding for Sun Life Stadium renovations, told NBC 6 Monday that he was pleased with Ross’ decision.
“I think this is great, and I’m glad that Mr. Ross has stepped forward,” Braman said. “I approve of this decision and I am happy about it.”
The region has hosted the Super Bowl 10 times, most recently in 2010, and league owners love the destination. But the aging multipurpose stadium made it difficult for South Florida to compete with more modern NFL stadiums for the title game.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said the upgrades would keep South Florida in contention for Super Bowls.
"My conversations with Roger Goodell were, 'You've got to stay competitive. The stadium needs to be upgraded. You're competing against billion-dollar stadiums,'" Barreto said.
Joe Robbie built the stadium with his own money for $115 million, and former owner Wayne Huizenga spent $250 million on renovations in 2007.
Dolphins fan Greg Harris said he supports rehabbing Sun Life Stadium.
"I've been to a Super Bowl at Sun Life. It is awesome, the experience there. For us to upgrade, and be in competition with everyone else, it'll be pretty good," Harris said. "It'll be really good for us – great for the economy."