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The Miami-Dade County Commission on Tuesday approved a deal with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to compensate him for renovating Sun Life Stadium, a plan expected to bring future Super Bowls to South Florida.
Ross and the Dolphins will pay for $350 million in stadium improvements and agreed to keep the team in Miami-Dade County for at least the next 30 years.
The county then will pay the team after major sporting events are brought to the stadium.
The improvements, which include a canopy to protect fans from rain and sun, are expected to bring the big game back to Sun Life for the first time since 2010. The stadium, which rarely sells out, will drop in capacity from 76,000 to 65,000. More seats will be added closer to the field and some upper-level seats will be removed. Video boards will be added and the concourse and parking lots will also be renovated. Miami is tied with New Orleans for most Super Bowls hosted with 10, but the NFL has deemed the stadium below Super Bowl standards.
Former Dolphins greats Dan Marino, Jason Taylor, Larry Little, Dick Anderson and Nat Moore were on hand for the vote.
"I think it's great for the community," Marino said. "I'm a Dolphins fan. It's part of my life, playing there so many years. I'm excited that it's going to be around and get a new look."
Team CEO Tom Garfinkel said the team will break ground on smaller projects in the coming weeks with major renovations to begin after the 2014 season. He said he expects the entire project to be done in time for the 2016 season.
"To make this kind of financial investment into this community just shows Steve's commitment and how he feels about the future of this community and the growth's that coming," Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel said.
The Dolphins needed a deal in place by the summer to have a shot at hosting the 2019 Super Bowl. The next four Super Bowls sites are already set.
The NFL has been awarding Super Bowls to cities with new and renovated stadiums. Atlanta is building a stadium and will likely compete with Miami for the 2019 Super Bowl.
The deal has Miami-Dade County paying the Dolphins $4 million from hotel taxes if a Super Bowl or World Cup soccer championship game is held at Sun Life.
A college football championship game or World Cup semifinal would pay the Dolphins $3 million. A college playoff game would pay $2 million. International soccer events at Sun Life would pay $750,000 if the stadium is sold out.
The county negotiated a 10-year deal on payments while it builds up its hotel tax reserve funds. So the Dolphins will earn credits until 2024 when the county will begin writing interest-free checks to the team.
The deal comes after several failed attempts by Ross to get the county to share in the cost of stadium renovations. First, Ross spearheaded a referendum that would have asked Miami-Dade voters to partially fund the stadium through a hotel bed tax increase.
The state Legislature wouldn't approve the referendum and it never went to the voters.
Ross then tried to negotiate a deal where he would have paid for the renovations and then handed ownership of the stadium over to the county.
In that scenario, the Dolphins wouldn't have had to pay $4 million in annual property taxes. But the Miami-Dade County school board and Miami Gardens fought the proposal because of a potential loss in tax revenue.
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