The Miami Dolphins will attempt to rally voter support as leverage in their quest for public funding for improvements to Sun Life Stadium.
The team refused to comment Saturday on a report that the Dolphins have agreed to require a referendum in Miami-Dade County in order to obtain funds through a tourist tax increase and state sales tax rebate to help pay for $400 million in stadium renovations. But a team source said the risk in putting the matter up to public vote could help convince state legislators to approve the measure.
"We're saying let the people make the decision, and we think people in the legislature will support that view point," the Dolphins source said.
A bill that has already cleared one committee in the Florida Legislature will be modified to require the countywide referendum. That popular vote won't come until after the conclusion of the legislative session.
The Dolphins are hoping that will provide impetus for lawmakers outside of South Florida to support the bill introduced by State Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, leaving it to the voters to ultimately decide.
The measure is expected to be a tough sell in Tallahassee. Although the Miami-Dade County Commission endorsed the stadium funding sources, the county's legislative delegation did not include it among its priorities for the upcoming session.
The Dolphins say stadium improvements are needed to ensure South Florida remains viable in competition to host the Super Bowl and college football championships. Dolphins owner Steve Ross has agree to pay more than 50 percent of the cost.
As part of the strategic chess game, the referendum will be targeted to occur before NFL owners vote May 22 to award the 50th Super Bowl for 2016. A show of support from Miami-Dade voters could help influence that outcome. The danger is that rejection by the public could sink hopes for the milestone Super Bowl as well as stadium improvements.
The other risk is lingering animosity about the Miami Marlins' ballpark deal swaying public sentiment against the Dolphins' funding bid. The Marlins deal was not put up for public vote.
"We're trying to do it in a different way. We said we would do things in a transparent fashion that makes sense to the community," the Dolphins source said.