The Dolphins’ push for a bill to "help pay for stadium renovations sailed through another committee of the Florida Legislature on Thursday," according to Toluse Olorunnipa of the MIAMI HERALD. While legislators who "live hundreds of miles from the Miami Gardens stadium have agreed to send state tax dollars to the Dolphins, Miami-Dade County’s delegation is lukewarm to the idea." The result is that the only organized opposition is "coming from the county that is requesting a special tax carve-out." An informal poll of 25 Miami-Dade County lawmakers "shows that the delegation is split over the Dolphins’ stadium, reflecting the political potency of the issue of sending taxpayer dollars to sports teams in South Florida." Uproar over the taxpayer-financed Marlins Park "led to the recall" of former Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez in '11. The Dolphins have "massaged their bill to make it more palatable to lawmakers across the state, agreeing to allow local taxpayers to approve a new hotel tax to help finance the stadium makeover." The team also agreed to "continue to play in Florida for decades to come, a concession requested by Gov. Rick Scott." Those concessions -- and a "well-connected lobbying team -- have helped the Dolphins push through a politically thorny proposal." The team also has "picked up support from local business groups" like the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association. The proposal has "cleared three of its four committees in the Senate with only one senator voting against it." The bill "passed its first committee in the House by a comfortable margin, and has two more committee stops before it can reach the floor." Though the Dolphins’ proposal has "gained steam in the Senate ... it faces longer odds in the House" (MIAMI HERALD, 3/15).
A TAXING DECISION: In Miami, Douglas Hanks in a front-page piece notes the vote by the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association gives the Dolphins "a key endorsement as the team prepares for a referendum needed to enact the financing plan." The hotel association "represents businesses that would see their customers pay slightly higher taxes if the Dolphins get the plan approved." The Dolphins’ plan would "increase taxes on mainland hotels" to 7% from 6% (MIAMI HERALD, 3/15). Hanks notes among the standard demands from the NFL for communities hosting a Super Bowl is that league employees "be exempt from all local taxes." That would "free NFL employees from paying" an additional 1% hotel tax. Communities "don’t always agree to the exemption." An NFL spokesperson on Thursday said that South Florida "rejected the NFL’s request when [the] Super Bowl last came" to the area in '10. But Santa Clara, Calif., last week announced it "would waive hotel taxes for NFL executives." That "raises the stakes as the Dolphins lobbying team races to obtain state and county approval of the tax-funded renovation by May 22, when NFL owners will pick a winner" (MIAMI HERALD, 3/15).
Sabres officials believe that the new HARBORcenter development will "become the ultimate hockey palace, headlined by two National Hockey League-size rinks sitting six and seven stories above the street," according to a front-page piece by Gene Warner of the BUFFALO NEWS. Sabres Chief Development Officer Cliff Benson said, "It’s the ‘Field of Dreams’ for hockey players. It’s the place where hockey players are going to want to come." The Sabres call the new project “Hockey Heaven,” hoping that the area "becomes a hockey magnet attracting everyone from young Mite ankle-skaters to NHL stars." The project includes a "200-room hotel, 845-space garage, restaurant, sports bar and retail space." The facility will be "used for youth hockey practices, games and tournaments; coaching clinics; top-flight college Division I and junior hockey competition; recreational community skating; world-class workout and training facilities; showcase youth tournaments; and international hockey events." The price tag for the "ever-changing project has risen now" to $172M, up from the previous $123M. The facility is "scheduled to open" in September '14, while the hotel is "set to open the following spring." Consultants told Sabres officials that "as many as 500,000 visitors may be lured to the site, helping further develop and revitalize the Canalside area." The project should "elevate the level of youth hockey played in Western New York, improve the Division I and pro chances for local elite players and even help attract NHL free agents to the Sabres." Sabres officials expect the building to "be the new home of both Canisius College’s Division I team and the Buffalo Junior Sabres" (BUFFALO NEWS, 3/15).
Some elements of the Wrigleyville West commercial district next to the Cubs’ new Spring Training facility in Mesa “could be open by the time the first fans arrive next spring,” according to Gary Nelson of the ARIZONA REPUBLIC. City and Cubs officials this week said that businesses “have expressed interest in opportunities near" the $84M complex. Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said, “We are well down the line with some developers to do some things as part of the Wrigleyville West. It’s looking pretty good right now.” Officials on Wednesday gave a site tour for media “to check out the complex, and it provided dramatic evidence of the transition from golf course to state-of-the-art baseball mecca.” Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney said, “This great stadium, 15,000 seats, will house an incredible experience for our fans.” Most of the seating “will be shaded and below ground level, looking toward the northeast.” Kenney said that while fan attention “will focus on the stadium,” the 70,000-square-foot clubhouse west of the ballpark “will be the heart and soul of team operations.” Kenney: “It’s got the largest conditioning space in either the Cactus or the Grapefruit League -- almost 9,000 square feet. It is a world-class place for our players to train.” Part of the clubhouse roof “remains to be installed because large hydrotherapy pools will have to be lowered in by crane.” The clubhouse “will be finished by mid-September.” It also will “house the Cubs’ West Coast business offices” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/15).
DEAR SIR:In Chicago, Dardick & Byrne note the Lake View Citizens’ Council in a letter sent Wednesday to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel “raised a host of red flags to parts of the rehab plan” to Wrigley Field proposed by Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts. Ricketts has said that he “would like to get the deal done by opening day April 1.” Council President William DeMille on Thursday said that he “was pleased a deal was not struck by early February, as city officials had hoped.” But he added that he “remains worried that neighbors won’t have their concerns about parking, traffic and public safety addressed if an agreement is reached soon.” DeMille in the letter “called for a limit of 33 night games, compared to 30 this season; and four concerts, compared to two now; contends more late Friday afternoon game starts would snarl rush-hour traffic and hurt businesses that don’t cater to game-goers; requests more detailed Cubs plans, including how parking would be provided for a proposed hotel; and calls for a greater police and security presence.” Cubs officials on Thursday said that they “were ‘encouraged’ that the neighbors were receptive to more games and concerts” (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/15).