MIAMI -- Even if voters approve using tax money to help upgrade the Miami Dolphins' stadium, a deal might be contingent on the NFL awarding the 2016 Super Bowl to the city.
The Dolphins confirmed Monday they've reversed their position and agreed to a referendum. A no vote would scuttle the plan.
This is about Super Bowl 50, the biggest event, frankly, in NFL history.” -- Dolphins CEO Mike Dee
Should the measure pass, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said, county commissioners still ought to have final approval -- and insist on assurances from the NFL that the city will host the 50th Super Bowl in 2016.
"I don't want to be eligible for things," Gimenez said. "I want to actually land something."
The Dolphins hope the referendum can be held before May 22, when league owners are expected to choose the host for the milestone Super Bowl. Miami and San Francisco are the finalists.
"This is about Super Bowl 50," Dolphins chief executive officer Mike Dee said, "the biggest event, frankly, in NFL history."
The Dolphins' plan also requires approval by the Florida Legislature. Public money would come from a $3 million-per-year state subsidy and an increase in Miami-Dade County's tax on hotels.
Upgrades to the stadium are expected to cost about $400 million. Team owner Stephen Ross has agreed to pay at least 51 percent but might be forced to go higher.
"He started at 51. That's great," Gimenez said. "I don't believe we're going to end up at 51 percent."
A referendum is risky for the Dolphins because many South Floridians remain upset about the public financing of the Miami Marlins' ballpark, which opened a year ago.
"The Dolphins have shown to be a lot different than the previous organization we dealt with," said Gimenez, who opposed the Marlins project. "The Marlins -- that's the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Let's say what it is. That was a bad deal, and a lot of things were kept in the dark. I don't deal that way. I'm sure the Dolphins don't deal that way."
Gimenez said negotiations between the county and Dolphins haven't begun, and a deal will be necessary before a referendum is scheduled. Yet to be determined is who would pay for the special election, which could cost $4 million.
The Dolphins had previously resisted a referendum, saying there wasn't time to hold a vote before the site for Super Bowl 50 was decided. But local legislators have shown only tepid support, and the Dolphins now believe referendum approval would help their chances in Tallahassee.
"Our harshest critics have said the voters need to weigh in," Dee said. "We support that."
Miami has hosted the Super Bowl 10 times, most recently in 2010. The Dolphins and the NFL say stadium upgrades are needed to keep the city competitive in bidding for future Super Bowl.