Miami voters will have the last say on whether international soccer icon David Beckham can build the stadium he wants for his Major League Soccer expansion team.
The latest incarnation of a home for the MLS Miami expansion team is more than a stadium — it’s part of a $1 billion development complete with 23 acres of youth soccer fields with artificial turf, a 750-room hotel, restaurant, retail and office space and a 58-acre public park in addition to a 25,000-seat stadium. All on city-owned land the Beckham group would lease near Miami International Airport.
Residents attending the Miami City Commission meeting gave Beckham a better reception Wednesday than he got last week when he first rolled out his plan.
During his introductory visit to the commission, the 43-year-old former Manchester United, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy star came face-to face with hundreds of campaigners fighting the idea of ripping up a public golf course to build the futuristic complex.
At issue is the fate of the youth development organization The First Tee, which helps 9,200 Miami youngsters, many underprivileged or with special needs, at the golf course Beckham & friends want to disappear.
Taking the microphone, Beckham said, “It has been a long time since I walked into a room and people aren’t smiling at me. It’s not a nice feeling. I’ve had it once or twice on the field, actually more than once or twice, and it’s not nice.”
But Beckham has his supporters, too. His group isn’t looking for any public financing. If the referendum vote Nov. 6 succeeds, taxpayers will feel no pain, City Commission Vice Chairman Ken Russell admitted Wednesday before the 3-2 vote — though Russell himself wasn’t 100 percent behind the proposal. He was, nevertheless, the swing vote.
Commissioners had expressed concern they were being railroaded into hastily sending the matter to public vote without clarity on financial details and other of the proposal’s key elements.
As it ended up Wednesday, according to the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, voters will be asked to permit the city to change its laws. That means waiving competitive bidding and authorizing the commission to negotiate a 99-year lease of 73 acres now occupied by the Melreese golf course for the privately funded project to be known as Miami Freedom Park.
Joe Carollo, a Miami city commissioner and former mayor, said he’s bullish on the Beckham plan particularly because the city has been losing money on Melreese for years, and has been looking for a way to turn it into a revenue source for the cash-strapped city.
Billionaire local businessman Jorge Mas, with deep roots in South Florida, has emerged as the point man for Miami Beckham United. The group has been seeking a stadium site for an MLS team practically since Beckham, prodigious goal-scoring midfielder and a former captain of England’s World Cup team, ended his playing career in 2013.
The Melreese site is the fifth the Beckham group has seriously pursued since 2014, including at the Port of Miami and parcels adjacent to AmericanAirlines Arena and Marlins Park. More than a year ago the group reached an agreement for land to build in the middle of Overtown. But that plan encountered a legal challenge, and, according to South Florida media, the Beckham group was never that keen on it anyway.
Mas and the Beckham group got the commission’s OK for the referendum after they agreed to these concessions:
- No city funding will be used for cleaning up toxic soil, which will cost an estimated $35 million.
- Miami Beckham United will give the city $5 million to finish the Baywalk and Riverwalk projects.
- Miami Beckham United will also provide $20 million for the new 58-acre park on the Melreese site.
- The First Tee will be accommodated with a driving range on the site and with access to the nearby 18-hole course at Miami Springs Golf Course.
- Miami Beckham United will pay the greater of fair market value for the leased land as determined by two independent appraisers, or 5 percent of gross rent revenue collected from tenants at the site. Minimum annual rent is set at $3.58 million.
- Workers at Miami Freedom Park will be guaranteed a living wage of no less than $15 an hour ($13.19 an hour for those with health insurance).
Mas has said the team must begin play in 2020 (launching at a temporary site). He has said he would reveal the team’s name soon. the team name will be revealed soon.
Names under consideration? Futbol Club Internacional de Miami (Inter Miami) and Futbol Club Atletico Miami (Atletico Miami), both recognizing the city’s international influences.