Fourteen years ago, Miami-Dade County negotiated one of the worst "profit-sharing" deals with a local sports franchise ever put to paper. Taxpayers gave Miami Heat owner Micky Arison $38 million in land and a $6.4 million annual subsidy to build the American Airlines Arena downtown, and in exchange the team was supposed to pay back some profits. The total return on that investment? Thirteen years of no sharing followed by a single $240,000 check last year.
Today, the county commission will vote on a new deal to replace that boondoggle. The good news is that under the new terms, Arison will promise to pay back $1 million every year. The bad news is that taxpayers will eventually up their own subsidy to the billionaire owner.
Update: The deal has passed by a 10-2 margin after several hours of testimony, including a plea on behalf of the team by Alonzo Mourning.
Here's the nitty gritty on the new proposal: It would end the contentious profit-sharing arrangement, which Arison managed to mostly avoid because he could count long-term stadium construction costs against profits even as the Heat became the league's best franchise. Instead, the owner will agree to give a million dollars a year to the county's parks department.
Taxpayers, in turn, will continue their annual $6.4 million subsidy until 2030 and then bump that to $8.5 million from 2031 until 2035, adding an extra five years to the deal keeping the Heat on the bay front.
In all, the new agreement will cost taxpayers about $19 million, the Herald reports, though that cost would be more like $2 million in current cash when inflation is taken into account.
"It is in the best interest of the County to ensure the Miami Heat remain as users of the Arena for the long term," County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who negotiated the deal, writes to commissioners in a letter backing the plan. "Just blocks west of the Arena is a reminder of what happens when you do not have long-term commitments; an empty lot where the Miami Arena once stood."
The vote brings a strange negotiation to a close a few months after Arison prematurely sent an email to season ticket holders promoting the new deal -- drawing an angry rebuke from Gimenez, who hadn't yet brought the package to commissioners for approval.
It also comes as stadium subsidies are as controversial as ever in Dade County, where backlash seems to be growing against David Beckham's proposal for a bayfront soccer stadium next to AA Arena and the mere mention of Marlins Park is still enough to get civic activists foaming at the mouth.
The new plan, by most accounts, is pretty fair for taxpayers in the grand scheme of things. But it's worth remembering that sports arena deals are perhaps the most absurd realm of civil policy in America and any deal that gives millions in taxpayer subsidies every year to the richest guy in Florida is worth questioning.
Here's Gimenez's letter to commissioners outlining all the details in the new plan, via the Miami Herald:
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Update: The deal has passed the commission with 10 yes votes and only commissioners Lynda Bell and Xavier Suarez against it.
There was one unexpected diversion during the discussion, the Herald reports: An argument broke out over whether the Heat's "non-compete" clause in the contract -- which bars the county from subsidizing any smaller arenas nearby -- would preclude the proposed David Beckham MLS stadium in Museum Park. Gimenez told the chamber he believes that clause refers only to direct subsidies, which aren't on the table in Beckham's case, but a county attorney said he was unsure whether a deal for county land could cause similar problems.