Miami Heat's Micky Arison keeps American Airlines Arena profits

With a slew of national musical acts filling seats, and LeBron James and Chris Bosh propelling the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals, the American Airlines Arena brought in a record-breaking $60 million in revenue in 2011. Yet for the 13th straight year, the Heat won't be sharing any of those profits with Miami-Dade taxpayers — you know, the ones who footed the bill to build the damn place.

Heat owner Micky Arison has essentially taken advantage of a loophole so he never has to share a nickel with voters who built his bayfront palace.

Under a 1997 construction agreement, the county gave away $38 million of land so Arison could erect the $213 million venue, plus it OKed a $6.4 million annual subsidy for operating the arena for the next 30 years.

In return, Arison's subsidiary — Basketball Properties, Ltd. — would pay the county 40 percent of all profits over $14 million.

Guess what? The arena always falls just short of the magic number.

According to Arison, not even last season's playoff run, which helped the Triple A generate $15 million more than it had earned in 2010, bumped the stadium over $14 million in profits. Even beyond the NBA, the arena had a great year. Industry publication Pollstar ranks the American Airlines Arena seventh in the nation and 18th in the world, with 340,000 tickets sold from January through September of last year.

That's because Arison claims the arena is an extremely expensive place to run. Last year he claimed $47.8 million in operating expenses and says the arena generated only $13.2 million in profit. Those costs included "depreciation and amortization" — the loss in value of fixed assets, such as kitchen equipment or computers — that ate up $12 million.

In fact, depreciation has cost the Heat $55 million over the past five years.

We left a phone message for Basketball Properties' chief financial officer, Samuel Schulman, to find out what items lost value at the arena. He hasn't responded. We also tweeted Arison, who replied, "If you don't know, you aren't qualified to write a financial story."

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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.