City Opposes Incomplete Lease, But Talks Go On Amid Procedural Complaints
Miami Freedom Park could house a soccer stadium and entertainment complex. (Courtesy of Jorge Mas and David Beckham)
The outcome of retired soccer star David Beckham’s planned $1 billion stadium and entertainment complex in Miami is still up in the air, with officials rejecting a key proposal one year after voters directed city officials to negotiate a lease for the project.
Miami city commissioners on Tuesday unanimously opposed an incomplete lease deal, but Mayor Francis Suarez made clear that talks with Beckham and business partner Jorge Mas will keep going and that the issue will be discussed before the commission again next month. In true Miami style, it came with accusations of political maneuvering, in this case complaints that the board was dribbling out the clock before an opponent of the deal had time left in his term to vote.
"A denial means nothing from the perspective of continuing to negotiate," Suarez said. "There has been a robust schedule of negotiations to this point, and there will be a continued robust schedule."
Beckham and Mas have proposed a 25,000-seat soccer stadium and 1 million square feet of retail, entertainment and office space at the city-owned Melreese Country Club at 1400 NW 37th Ave. near Miami International Airport. The privately funded project, which also would include 750 hotel rooms, would be known as Miami Freedom Park. Any lease requires approval from at least four of the five commissioners.
The project is located about 10 miles southeast of Trump National Doral.
Beckham, who retired after the 2013 Premier League season, has turned to the business side of soccer. He’s the public face for Miami’s new Major League Soccer franchise, Inter Miami, which expects to begin play in 2020 at a temporary site 35 miles north in Fort Lauderdale, until a Miami stadium is complete in 2022. Major League Soccer awarded Beckham’s group a franchise in early 2018, nearly two decades after South Florida’s last MLS team, the Miami Fusion, folded.
Even though Mas and lawyers for the city told the commission they need more time to complete negotiations, Commissioner Manolo Reyes wanted the item on Tuesday’s agenda so that fellow commissioner Willy Gort could vote on the measure before he leaves office because of term limits.
Gort, who represents the district in which Melreese Country Club is located, has spoken out against the project. Reyes also opposes the stadium proposal and said proponents in the city administration have intentionally dragged out negotiations so Gort wouldn’t be able to cast a vote.
Reyes grew frustrated Tuesday when lawyers for the city explained that negotiations are complicated, and that appraisals, an environmental study and other documents are not yet finalized. “That’s your job!” he said.
Commissioner Joe Carollo agreed that it’s not easy to draft a lease, but he blamed city administrators for allowing talks to drag on with no resolution.
Mas, meanwhile, told commissioners that he and Beckham remain “steadfastly committed” to fulfilling promises they made in July 2018 when they asked the commission to let voters decide whether the city should change its rules and negotiate a no-bid deal for the stadium. Voters approved that measure last November, though some residents have spoken out against the project, saying it would eliminate green space and bring too much traffic to the area.
Mas reiterated to the commission that city taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay anything for the project, that he and Beckham would pay fair market value for the land and cover the entire cost of environmental remediation of the golf course, estimated at less than $40 million.
The 99-year lease payment and property taxes alone would bring $2.9 billion to the city and $13.2 billion to the city, Miami-Dade County, the school board and the state of Florida, Mas noted. He added that groups in Nashville; St. Louis; Columbus, Ohio; Austin, Texas; and Sacramento, California, have essentially copied this stadium proposal for their own MLS facilities, and even received significant financial support from the cities.
“I am extremely confident that when we weigh the benefits here,” he said, “I think it’ll be a project that’ll be transformational for our city and one that will leave a great legacy.”