Steve Ross unveiled an ambitious plan to make aging Sun Life Stadium as good as new and vowed on Monday to pay more than half of the cost.
The Miami Dolphins owner is hoping that will be enough to persuade elected officials to put up the remainder from public funds for a project estimated at $375 million to $400 million.
The Dolphins are banking on the benefits of attracting events such as Super Bowls, college football championships, international soccer and the Pan American Games to overcome lingering resentment from the Miami Marlins' stadium deal.
"It's going to be a situation where everybody wins," Ross said.
The plan revives the idea of putting an open-air canopy roof over the seating areas. The stands would be extended 18 feet closer to each of the football sidelines and add 3,700 seats to the lower bowl.
Wider, more comfortable seats would be among the improvements for fans, and giant high-definition video boards would be added atop the four corners of the upper deck.
"My goal is to secure the future of Miami-Dade [County] and the Dolphins so we can remain a global competitor for sports and entertainment for at least another 25 years," Ross said. "That's why I'm willing to make the initial and most substantial investment in this project."
Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said a bill will be filed in the State Legislature seeking $3 million a year sales tax rebate from the state on goods and services generated at the stadium. A companion bill will seek to empower the Miami-Dade County Commission to raise the tourist bed tax in Miami from 6 to 7 cents.
That would enable the project to tap into the professional sports franchise tax that has already been authorized and used on other sports facilities, including the AmericanAirlines Arena and Homestead-Miami Speedway. That could provide up to $10 million a year.
"It's not a new tax," Dee said, adding, "We are not restricting our discussions to those two ideas. We are open-minded and eager to work with local elected leaders and legislators to find other means to uncork this private investment that we're willing to bring to the table."
Asked why he won't pay for the entire project, Ross said: "I think I've made a bigger commitment than any other person in professional sports in the United States.
"You have a limit to how much capital you can put into something. I am prepared to put up more than half of the money."
Ross purchased the Dolphins and the stadium from H. Wayne Huizenga in a deal completed in 2009 for $1.1 billion. For this additional outlay, said he also will guarantee to cover any cost overruns and ensure that local contractors and workers are utilized.
There is a sense of urgency in pushing the project with South Florida in competition for the 50th Super Bowl with San Francisco. NFL owners will vote May 22 to award the milestone game in 2016 as well as the 2017 Super Bowl.
"We need these renovations, and we need this stadium to be competitive," said Rodney Barreto, chairman of the South Florida Super Bowl Bid Committee.
But Ross made it clear that renovations are needed even if South Florida fails to land either of those games, for the future of the Dolphins as well as to remain competitive against cities with newer facilities for Super Bowls and college football championships.
"If you don't do anything, this stadium gets obsolete by the year. It would be a lot less expensive to do it now to create what we look at as a new stadium," Ross said.
Along with Barreto, support was voiced by University of Miami interim athletic director Blake James, as well as Orange Bowl officials and the head of the Pan American Games bid effort. Ross said the stadium upgrades would also help bring major soccer events to the stadium.
Former Dolphins owner Joe Robbie had the stadium designed with soccer and baseball in mind, which resulted in the stands being situated well away from the football sidelines. It has undergone two significant renovations since opening in 1987, including a retrofit to accommodate the Marlins from 1993-2011.
More extensive was a $250,000 million renovation that began in 2007 and greatly expanded the club level. Despite those improvements, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said before the 2010 Super Bowl here that the stadium would need additional improvements to remain in the rotation.
That led the Dolphins to seek more than $200 million in tourist taxes in 2011 for some of the same improvements in the new proposal. Their timing could hardly have been worse, with Miami-Dade having just ousted its mayor in a rebuke over the Marlins' ballpark deal.
Broward County, which responded with an emphatic thumbs-down in 2011, is not being asked to help with funding this time.
In seeking support in Miami-Dade, the Dolphins will be contending with a renewed backlash over the Marlins recently dumping millions in player salaries less than a year after moving into a ballpark funded largely by public money. The Marlins committed about 20 percent of funding for that $634 million project.
"You get some sense from elected official that they weren't necessarily against public funding for sports facilities, they were more against bad deals for the community. I think what we have to do this time is get it right," Dee said. "There is a solution where everybody wins here."
The project has 20 to 25 components. Ross was evasive when asked whether he would be willing to go ahead with some improvements and wait on others, such as the roof, if public money cannot be obtained for the entire plan.
But he seemed eager to proceed, saying construction would take just over year and could be completed before the 2015 season. The Dolphins would be able to play at the stadium while work was in progress.
Stadium capacity would remain around the current 75,000, as some seating would be removed from the upper level.