Stephen Ross – one of the richest men in the United States per Forbes Magazine – has finally figured out a way to get his hand in the pocket of the taxpayers of Miami Dade County, thanks in a large part to the seemingly unending thirst of Mayor Carlos Gimenez to take care of wealthy sports team owners.
The new deal is to hand over millions of dollars in tourist bed tax money to the Dolphins’ owner to attract games and events to Sun Life Stadium, games and events that are already slated to happen. And then there’s Mickey Arison, the wealthiest man in Florida, who got a sweetheart deal from the county when he wanted to build the American Airlines Arena on the shore of Biscayne Bay. Our lawmakers gave away millions of dollars in future profits.
Mayor Gimenez says giving Ross $3 to $5 million to help attract a Superbowl that we’re going to get anyway is an “incentive.” The profit from the Superbowl should be incentive enough, don’t you think? But, I suppose it’s better than the other deal Gimenez considered that would have given away property taxes — up to about $5 million annually. Gimenez called that one “the best possible deal” for the county.
Well those deals are done, so no point in criticizing history, we can’t change that. In fact, the voters apparently thought it was okay because they subsequently re-elected county commissioners who voted for and even championed the deal.
But there’s a serious wrongdoing going on that the community and the county commissioners need to pay attention to. In the often ignored southern part of Miami-Dade County, one of the treasures of our community — the Homestead-Miami Speedway — is getting a very raw deal from Mayor Gimenez and the county. Commissioner Lynda Bell did vote against the Dolphin giveaway, but now it’s time for her to utilize her bully pulpit to bring fairness and relief to the situation that exists between the Speedway and the county.
In l995, on the heels of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation, the City of Homestead entered into a lease agreement with the Speedway providing for a 32-year term, later amended to allow four potential 10-year extensions. In 200l the Sebring case effectively rewrote the basic terms of that agreement by requiring the city to pay ad valorem taxes on the facility. Since 2002, Homestead taxpayers have paid $5.8 million to the county, school board, state and other taxing authorities. How outrageous, ludicrous and unfair.
As of 20l6, the terms of the lease will result in the city defectively realizing a $520,000 annual loss that will not be recouped from lease revenue. This deficit does not include the cost of the tax increase implemented by the county or improvements to the facility.
The county should refund those tax dollars, make Homestead whole and provide relief from the annual tax burden. The Homestead- Miami Speedway is an important component of South Florida’s sports, entertainment and tourism industries. The track hosts several major motorsports race weekends annually and, during the fall, both the IndyCar racing circuit and NASCAR season championship races are held at the facility. In addition to these major racing events, the Speedway is active throughout the year hosting varied nonrace activities, including vehicle testing, racecar driving schools and production companies that shoot commercials and feature films there and pay fees to rent the facility.
According to the Washington Economic Group and noted economist Tony Villamil, the Speedway and its related infrastructure generate significant economic impacts on Miami-Dade County in employment, labor income, economic output and public revenues. The study found:
• Over 3,822 permanent jobs for MDC residents result directly or indirectly from the operation of the Speedway.
• Homestead-Miami Speedway’s ongoing operations generate almost $l47 million in labor income each year for county residents.
• Homestead-Miami Speedway’s ongoing operations create a net contribution to Miami-Dade’s economy of $230 million each year.
• The total economic impact from the ongoing operations of the Speedway on Miami- Dade is just over $33l million annually.
• The Speedway’s ongoing operations generate almost $6l million of total fiscal revenues for federal, state and local governments in Florida.
• The Ford Championship weekend currently is the largest recurring annual economic impact weekend in South Florida.
• The track is active 260 days a year.
In addition to these quantifiable activities, the Speedway provides multiple external benefits to South Florida. Important among these is the enhancement of Florida’s image as a professional motorsports state. These ongoing activities will generate economic impacts that extend beyond those directly related to the ongoing activities at the Speedway. These “spillover” or multiplier impacts are the result of each business activity’s supply relationships with other firms operating within the region and the state. That pays off in the form of labor and capital income, and the propensity of households to spend income on goods produced within the local area.
The Washington Economics Group concludes: “The ongoing operations of the Homestead-Miami Speedway are important contributors to the standard of living of Miami-Dade residents, providing significant support to the generation of high-paying jobs, labor income for residents and public revenues. Furthermore, the Homestead- Miami Speedway is a foundational component of the growing entertainment and visitor cluster of Miami-Dade. This cluster of industries is a priority of the Economic Development Strategy of Florida.”
Keep in mind that Miami-Dade commissioners are acutely aware that the deal crafted by now Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera and Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado for the parking garages at the Marlins Stadium is patently unconstitutional by the same Sebring standards that require Homestead to be extorted by the county for upwards of $l million a year, and the millions it would cost if anyone chose to challenge that issue in court. But that seems like a drop in the bucket when you’re pandering to Stephen Ross and offering $3 to $5 million to help attract a future Super Bowl, yet completely ignore the annual “gift” that the Speedway gives the people of Miami-Dade by generating far more revenue than any other event in the county. And this in the face of a county administration that continues to hold that there is no additional money for police salaries and library funding, or to implement the will of the people who voted for a Pet’s Trust initiative in 20l2.
It’s time to wake up our county commissioners, especially those who side with David Beckham, another wealthy sports team owner, who rejected a proposed Orange Bowl site for a new soccer stadium because it was not located on the waterfront and was too far removed from downtown. Yet, the Homestead Miami Speedway, in it’s remote location, generates more money for county coffers than any other event in our community.
The roar of the engines at the Homestead Miami Speedway could very easily be silenced by the France family that leases the Speedway to stage the big-time auto racing events. They could move these important, lucrative events to other racing facilities they own in other parts of the country, venues where they would not be required to share the profits. Las Vegas has been mentioned most often as a candidate to replace Homestead as host for these automotive racing events that have become so popular in South Florida. It would be a shame to see the France family uproot these iconic motorsports events and move them to their Las Vegas track just a few miles from the Vegas strip.
County lawmakers should stop taking advantage of the good residents of South Miami-Dade and fix this inequity. It’s the right thing to do.