Dolphins court Black voters for support

caines | 5/2/2013, 5:30 a.m.

Will promises and team-endorsed spokespersons be enough to secure a win at the polls? With time running out for the Florida Legislature to agree on a bill that would put the decision for a modernization of Sun Life Stadium that would be financed, in part, by additional tourist room taxes in the hands of the voters in a special May 14th election, the Miami Dolphins have secured a team of Black lawyers, preachers and businesses leaders, according to local attorney H.T. Smith, who are working every section of Miami-Dade County with one purpose: to persuade Blacks that the Dolphins deal will benefit them and their communities. Last Monday, the Florida Senate signed off on a proposal that allows professional sports teams, with the exception of the NBA, to apply to the state for up to $13 million annually to pay for the construction or renovation of a stadium. It also requires local referendums for counties to approve the projects. It now heads back to the House where lawmakers have until Fridays adjournment to pass it. With the hurdle of the bill appearing to be on the verge of being overcome, the Dolphins, according to team spokesman Eric Jotkoff, are pulling out all the stops to persuade voters to agree on the increased bed tax referendum that would allow the team to use funds generated from the tourism taxes to help pay for the stadium renovation. The referendum would increase the mainland hotel tax rate from 6 percent to 7 percent. That would bring in approximately $289 million for the team to rebuild its stadium. The Dolphins have agreed that to repay the County $120 million after 26 years and to pay up to $120 million in penalties if major events dont come to the stadium, including four Super Bowls. But some critics wonder why Dolphins team owner Stephen Ross doesnt pay for the renovations himself or secure a loan like other businesses do. Local business mogul Norman Braman has said that the loan payback plan doesnt take interest or inflation into account, saying, Its wrong and its just sickening.

Sending out advocates into the community

One of the Dolphins strategies has been to establish the Miami First Coalition who Jotkoff says consists primarily of M-DC business and community leaders that are dedicated to educating the voting public on the benefits that they believe will arise from the partnership between the Miami Dolphins and Miami-Dade County. Public records indicate that the majority of the funds used by Miami First [also referred to as Committee: (PAC) Friends of Miami First, Inc., come from South Florida Stadium LLC. While we were unable to secure a complete list of the coalitions members, we were provided with a list of some 15 ministers, most from the Black community, that have submitted written endorsements of the stadium modernization plan. Miami First is co-chaired by Smith, who has registered as a lobbyist and is being financially compensated by the Dolphins in the amount of $20,000 and Jorge Arrizurieta. [We were unable to determine if Arrizurieta was being paid for his services but did learn that he is leading up outreach efforts to the Hispanic community]. We are talking to people throughout the community answering questions because there is a lot of misinformation out there, Smith said. We have chamber of commerce people, police officers, hotel managers, former Dolphins, ministers and leaders from Miami Gardens that have joined us. This is a complicated issue and its a short sprint to the finish line. The voters have a right to say if they want to support this deal or not, but based on everything Ive seen and heard, its a very good investment.