Miami Dolphins Stadium Renovation: A Political Insider's Guide

Give Stephen Ross props. He stepped up to Norman Braman one billionaire to another and slapped him across the face with a clean white glove. With a full page ad undermining Braman's credibility in Tuesday's edition of the Miami Herald, Ross let Braman know he's got the cash to parry any attacks the car dealership mogul throws at him.

It's just one of several key moves the Miami Dolphins owner has been making publicly and behind the scenes to win local and state tax revenues for $400 million in upgrades, including a partial roof, Ross wants for Sun Life Stadium. Today, the Miami-Dade County Commission will vote on a resolution to support Ross' efforts to get the Florida Legislature to approve a sales tax rebate and a one percent increase to tourism bed taxes in Miami for the stadium renovation.

But Ross has been laying the ground work for several months by wining and dining insiders and politicos alike:

See also:
- Miami Marlins, Miami Dolphins Give Big To Political Committees
- Norman Braman's Contributions Dried Up For the Nov. 6 County Commission Run-Offs
- Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross Lies About Stadium Upgrades

June 7, 2012: Through Miami Dolphins Ltd., Ross contributed $10,000 to Government For The People, an electioneering communications organization established to help incumbent county commissioners Audrey Edmonson, Bruno Barreiro, Barbara Jordan, and Dennis Moss retain their seats in the August 2012 primary election. Coincidentally, they all voted for the universally reviled Miami Marlins stadium deal.

Eight days later, the NFL owner and real estate mogul dropped $25,000 on Common Sense Now, the ECO set up to help Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez win in 2011 and his subsequent reelection. A shrewd move by Ross considering the mayor was a vociferous opponent using taxpayer funds for the Marlins ballpark fiasco.

In total, Ross raised $71,600 for Gimenez and the four county commissioners in the last election.

September 23, 2012: Gimenez attended the Dolphins home game against the New York Jets as a guest of the team. He received two tickets worth $500 from one of his former mayoral opponents, Dolphins lobbyist Marcelo Llorente, to sit inside Sunlife Stadium's CEO suite. The mayor also attended the Oct. 20 University of Miami home game versus Florida State as a guest in university President Donna Shalala's suite, as well as the Dolphins contest against the New England Patriots on Dec. 2.

For the Patriots game, Gimenez was joined by Deputy Mayor Genaro Iglesias and mayoral aide Gabriela Lopez. The trio were hosting members of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Pan American Sports Organization, who were in town for a sports symposium, says the mayor's spokeswoman Suzy Trutie.

She says Gimenez did speak with Dolphins representatives about Ross' plan to renovate the stadium partially using public funds, but that the mayor was and remains non-committal. In a recent statement, Gimenez declined comment on the merits of the proposal because Ross has not officially presented the plan.

Trutie says Gimenez, Iglesias, and Lopez are not required to file gift disclosure forms because they attended the Patriots game in an official capacity as county representatives. The mayor did file disclosure forms for the Jets and Florida State games with the county clerk on Jan. 18, two days after Banana Republican questioned Trutie about the mayor's attendance at Sun Life sporting events.

We also asked all 13 county commissioners if they had been invited to football games by the Dolphins organization. Five said no and six did not respond for comment, including Jose "Pepe" Diaz who attended the Nov. 25 Dolphins game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Commissioner Edmonson says she attended two games for check presentations at Sun Life Stadium: Oct. 14 for the Little Haiti Optimist Club and Nov. 25 for the Dolphin Cycling Challenge. She says she did not receive tickets to sit in the CEO suite.

Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa says she attended a check presentation for the American Cancer Society before a game, which she does every year. Once the presentation is finished, she leaves, Sosa adds.

January 15: Brian May, a lobbyist whose clients include Jungle Island and Ultra Music Festival, registered to represent the Dolphins before the county commission. He joins a team that includes the Dolphins' longtime lobbyist Ronald Book, Llorente, and former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas.

Llorente says he and Penelas will be making the rounds on Spanish language media on behalf of the team. The former state legislator says he will also lobby for the team in Tallahassee if the county commission approves its resolution today.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.