MIAMI -

It's hard to argue that Marlins Park is the poster park for bad public deals.  But only in hindsight did that come into the popular consciousness. 

So if you subscribe to the optimistic theory about silver linings, consider this: the Marlins' deal, like no other local expenditure, has finally engaged and focused public attention on where and how the people's money is spent. 

Which brings us to the now-dead Dolphins plan for Sun Life Stadium (details of which are in no way comparable to the Marlins'). 

More than 50,000 people cast early or absentee ballots to express their support or opposition to the now-aborted Sun Life deal.   How many of those same voters, do you suppose, ever bothered to call or email any Miami-Dade commissioner or mayor while they were deciding whether to approve the deal for the Marlins.  Sure, there were signs of popular opposition back then, but action? Engagement? Involvement? Strike-out. 

Only after-the-fact did the the people decide to use that power in a mayoral recall.

The Sun Life plan is over, but there will be others.  The details may change - the team, the numbers, the promises, the deal.  But the essential, bottom-line issue stays the same: whether public money should be used for private pro sports businesses.  The questions should be, what are the public benefits; what is the public's return on investment?

About that, we heard plenty from the Dolphins' supporters-turned-spinmeisters. And much of it was spin. In fact, one of them told me he actually liked our most challenging questions, because they helped him frame his spin better.

Would renovating Sun Life stadium create jobs and attract events?  No doubt.  The fact is, any construction creates some work.  Every big event nets a spike to some businesses.  How many? How much?  How long-term? and how widespread?  Note that the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau reports some of the highest hotel occupancy and room rates in the country these past few months, and record tourist tax income. 

That's without a Super Bowl.

Right now, many sports teams get tens of millions of your tax dollars in the name of business development.  No judgment here, just a question to research objectively: Are we putting our public money where our priorities are?