By Kevin Gray
MIAMI (Reuters) - A proposal by the Miami Dolphins to use taxpayer money to help finance an upgrade of the NFL team's stadium failed on Friday to win broad support among Florida state lawmakers, dealing a potential blow to Miami's bid to host the 2016 Super Bowl.
The Dolphins, owned by real estate tycoon Stephen Ross, lobbied the state legislature for months to back a bill to increase hotel taxes in Miami-Dade County to finance nearly half of a proposed $350 million renovation of the Sun Life Stadium, which is privately owned.
But a bill that passed the Florida Senate this week proposing that the tax increase to 7 percent from 6 percent stalled in the House of Representatives on Friday, the last day of this year's legislative session.
In a statement, Ross blamed House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican, for failing to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote.
"The Speaker single-handedly put the future of Super Bowls and other big events at risk for Miami-Dade and for all of Florida," he said.
The Dolphins' failure to win over lawmakers comes as public scrutiny over publicly financed sports stadiums has heightened.
The issue has proved particularly controversial in Miami, where the use of taxpayer money to pay three-quarters of the cost of the new $550 million Miami Marlins baseball stadium has proved highly unpopular.
After the Marlins' inaugural season in the stadium last year, the team's owner, Jeffrey Loria, sold off many of the team's top players, angering fans.
The Dolphins pitched the overhaul of Sun Life Stadium in suburban north Miami as crucial to securing high-profile sporting events like the Super Bowl, arguing it would help create 4,000 jobs and bring hundreds of millions of tourist dollars to south Florida.
Miami and San Francisco are the finalists to host the 2016 Super Bowl. The Dolphins had hoped lawmakers would approve the deal before a May 22 meeting where National Football League officials are expected to announce which city will be awarded the championship game.
Sun Life Stadium, where the Dolphins have played for 26 years, is one of the older stadiums in the NFL.
In a last-ditch effort to build lawmaker support for the bill, the Dolphins asked Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to meet with lawmakers this week.
As part of an agreement with officials, Ross pledged to pay $5 million to hold a voter referendum on whether state tax money should be used to fund the stadium renovation. He also vowed to keep the team in Miami for the next 30 years.
The referendum was scheduled to be held on May 14, but Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a statement the vote would now be canceled.
(Reporting by Kevin Gray; Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by Eric Beech)