They described it as a discussion, but Wednesday’s faceoff between Miami Dolphins nemesis Norman Braman and attorney H.T. Smith quickly turned into a spirited debate about whether team owner Stephen Ross should get public money to renovate Sun Life Stadium.
"This deal that my good friend H.T. describes is the same rip-off that the Marlins gave us only a few years ago," Braman said.
Responded Smith: "Anybody talking about this being the Marlins deal is in a parallel universe."
The Dolphins hired Smith to campaign for the deal to modernize the stadium.
"The Dolphins have to pay $159 million back, that's never happened before," Smith told the small crowd at the Downtown Bay Forum in Miami.
In touting the deal forged between Miami-Dade County and the team, Smith made the point that only tourist tax dollars, $7.5 million a year for 26 years, are part of the agreement that voters must either approve or reject in a special referendum scheduled for May 14.
"Isn't it true, Mr. Braman," Smith asked, as the two men were sitting side by side at a table on a stage, "that in regard to the issue the taxpayers are voting on, that voters are gonna vote on May 14, no tax money will come from the voters, all the money will come from private money or tourists, isn't that true, Mr. Braman?"
Braman responded, "No, it's not, the Dolphins are asking for $3 million a year in sales tax revenue, H.T., it's in the bill."
Braman was referring to the bill in the state legislature that would give the Dolphins more than $3 million in sales tax rebates a year, in addition to the money they would receive from the hotel bed tax in Miami-Dade County.
"This is welfare for a multibillionaire," Braman seethed. "A man who is the 83rd-wealthiest person in the United States."
Smith looked at Braman and said, "He's a good man, but on this issue, he's a hypocrite because not only did he ask, get the corporate welfare when he owned the Philadelphia Eagles, but Braman Inc. has gotten tax dollars twice from Miami-Dade County."
Smith was referring to Braman's time as owner of the eagles, when the city of Philadelphia gave the team millions of dollars for a stadium project. Braman says he inherited that deal from the team's previous owner, and paid every dime back to the city.
"But you know, H.T.," Braman said, while patting smith on the shoulder, "if you can't debate the issues, my friend, and you don't like the message, go after the messenger. I'm fine, I can take the flack."
What about benefits of the deal? Smith talked about the economic impact of drawing Super Bowls and other big events to the improved stadium, and the job impact of the project.
"These are 4,000 construction job which will last between 22 and 24 months, but these are good jobs, living wage jobs," Smith said.
Braman responded, "This nonsense of the jobs and the economics, we went through that hot air with the Marlins and we're hearing today the same hot air from the Miami Dolphins."
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