Not long after the Orange Bowl was played on New Year’s Eve, the Dolphins embarked on an ambitious, $400 million plan to rip apart about one-third of Sun Life Stadium. Dolphins President Tom Garfinkel has been regularly posting photos of the progress.
— Tom Garfinkel (@TomGarfinkel) February 11, 2015
The plan is being carried out in two phases. The first takes off the upper corner sections permanently, leaving the structural raker beams behind. The lower sideline sections are also being removed, to be replaced with new sections that will eventually bring the first row 24 feet closer to the field than before. All of the seats will be replaced with bigger, all-turquoise versions. The lower deck renovation will allow the Dolphins to offer new luxury seating types between the usual club seat and suite choices. Some will be mini suites at midfield, others will be behind the end zone. Concourses are also being redone.
Second phase improvements include new scoreboards in the upper corners where the seating sections used to be, and the big reason for the project: a huge open air canopy that will cover virtually the entire seating bowl and outdoor concourses. Given the often rainy and hot weather in the first half of the NFL season, this was considered a necessary addition. The canopy is also a must for the NFL if future Super Bowls are to be held there (the last was held in 2010).
Final capacity is projected slightly above 65,000, a cut of 10,000 seats. Despite the reduced seat count, the venue is better positioned to bid for the Super Bowl and the College Football Championship game, which is up for bid separately from the normal bowl rotation (the stadium already hosts the Orange Bowl).
Most importantly, this project is being financed privately, mostly through luxury seat/suite sales, not through bonds, PSLs, or other unsavory means. Stephen Ross campaigned for public funding for the better part of 2 years, threatening that the Super Bowl wouldn’t come back without yet another South Florida giveaway. He eventually gave up his quest, seeing that it would be better to get started on the project and get the Super Bowl. Finally, Miami-Dade County held firm and wasn’t ripped off the way they were by the Marlins and Heat.
In May I covered the much more modest, $200 million renovation at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl. While that project lacked much of the luxury amenities being added to Sun Life, the actual teardown and rebuild was more extensive, gutting and replacing the entire lower bowl. I wondered why the Raiders weren’t pursuing this path at the Coliseum. I can say the same now that the Dolphins are going down a similar, albeit more NFL-appropriate path. A Raiders renovation would be a sort of hybrid of the two, not as swanky as Miami nor as basic as Orlando. Over time I ballparked the cost at $500-600 million, basically the same amount as the funding gap the team and Oakland/Alameda County face at Coliseum City.
So why is no one talking about a Coliseum renovation? Maybe the image of the Coliseum is beyond repair even with a renovation. Maybe the fact that the field is 20 feet below sea level makes it a bad choice for forward-thinking CEQA guidelines about sea-level rise or storm-related flooding. Neither of those is a good excuse. If everyone involved in wanting to keep the Raiders (team, government, fans, investors) isn’t merely about playing games, there’s no reason why this kind of option wouldn’t be investigated thoroughly. It’s cost-effective, proven, and preserves the very site that so many Raiders fans hold dear.
P.S. – While we’re at it, why didn’t the 49ers incorporate some of these amenities into Levi’s Stadium? We’ve already seen these put into arenas and some stadia over the past few years.
P.P.S. – The Dolphins are applying for $50 million in sales tax revenues. A decision to provide that funding along with funding for other sports venues has been delayed by the Florida legislature. Even if that’s approved, Ross is funding $350 million of the project, a better ratio than most American stadia. At least Ross dropped the charade and got started on the project.