The concept seemed simple enough when the Dolphins unveiled it on Jan. 14:
All the Dolphins needed was to raise the hotel tax on Miami-Dade tourists by a mere 1 percent, receive a $3 million per year sales tax rebate from the state, and all of South Florida could enjoy a modern, comfortable Sun Life Stadium with $400 million in renovations, including a canopy to protect the fans, better seating and four brand new high-definition video boards.
But South Floridians are wary of giving public money to build sports stadiums after the Marlins Park fiasco, and the Dolphins’ plan has gotten a lot more complicated in recent days.
Most importantly, the Dolphins reversed course on their original position and agreed Monday to let Miami-Dade County hold a referendum to allow voters to decide if they should use their tax dollars on the stadium renovation.

The Dolphins originally said a month ago that there wasn’t enough time for a referendum, as the stadium financing plan needs to be finalized before May 22, when NFL owners decide between South Florida and the San Francisco Bay Area as the site of Super Bowl 50, which the Dolphins badly want to host. The loser of the vote will square off against Houston for Super Bowl 51, to be voted on the same day.
But the change of course is no coincidence — it came just days after Miami-Dade representatives in the state legislature left the stadium bill off their official list of priorities for this session in Tallahassee, which begins in March.
If Miami-Dade residents vote overwhelmingly in favor of using tax dollars on stadium improvements, it could significantly bolster the Dolphins’ chances of getting approval in Tallahassee (the state law would have to be changed to raise the hotel tax from 6 to 7 percent).
But that appears to be an uphill battle given the backlash over the recent Marlins stadium deal. If Miami-Dade voters are split on the matter or vote overwhelmingly against it, the Dolphins’ chances of getting public money will be crushed. The referendum will not include a vote on whether to grant the Dolphins a $3 million sales tax rebate, which comes from the state level and would total $90 million over 30 years. The Dolphins already receive a $2 million-per-year rebate.