SOCCER

Marlins Park could be front-runner as temporary home for potential David Beckham MLS team

 

David Beckham toured potential locations for a new MLS team Wednesday and apparently likes Marlins Park and FIU Stadium until a new stadium is built.

WEB VOTE Where should a future Major League Soccer team play home games in South Florida until a new stadium is built?

mkaufman@MiamiHerald.com

David Beckham, pushing forward on his quest to bring a Major League Soccer team to Miami, is taking a serious look at Marlins Park as a temporary home until he can build a permanent soccer-specific stadium, according to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and two other sources.

The soccer icon was in town Wednesday, touring potential locations with his business manager Simon Fuller and billionaire Marcelo Claure, owner of Brightstar Corp., a Miami-based global wireless distributor. Beckham is also considering FIU Stadium as a temporary venue.

Beckham and Fuller had dinner Tuesday night at the home of Claure, and Gimenez and his wife, Lourdes, were in attendance.

“They do want an urban site,” Gimenez said on Wednesday. “I do agree that an urban site would work better.”

A facility such as the Miami Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens would be too big, he added, noting that the investors envision crowds of 20,000 to 28,000 fans. The Marlins Park capacity is 36,742 and FIU Stadium seats 23,500.

Eventually, the team would build its own stadium – with its own money, the mayor emphasized.

The Marlins Park location would likely please MLS, as it sits on the former Orange Bowl site, which is where the league intended to put the Miami Fusion when it awarded the city that franchise back in 1997. Politics got in the way and the team wound up playing at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. The team folded in 2001.

Marlins Park also offers the big-time, modern professional feel Beckham is looking for, a stadium replete with dining options, luxury boxes, spacious media facilities, and even a field-side Clevelander bar.

But it is not ideal as a permanent home because the MLS season overlaps with baseball season, making scheduling complicated. Also, it requires reconfiguration of the field. The stadium hosted a Venezuela vs. Nigeria soccer match last November, and organizers covered the infield dirt, put one goal near the Marlins dugout on the third-base side and the other in front of the visitors’ bullpen in right field.

Former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz kept the MLS-to-Miami dream alive when in December 2007 he announced plans for a retractable-roof baseball stadium and an adjacent 25,000-seat soccer stadium on the 40-acre Orange Bowl site. The soccer venue was to sit west of the baseball stadium, but that part of the plan was never realized when Marlins Park was built. That land was used for surface parking. It is unclear whether a permanent soccer venue could still be built there.

The Marlins had no comment on the Beckham visit, said team spokesman Matt Roebuck.

Tuesday’s meeting was the second one between Gimenez and Beckham. They met in June, when Beckham toured sites. The former player is “very interested” in opening a team in Miami, Gimenez said. “He’s a very nice gentleman and very down-to-earth.”

As part of his contract with MLS six years ago, Beckham was given the option to buy a franchise for a deeply discounted $25 million upon his retirement. He retired last spring, plans to exercise the option, and word is he hopes to present his plan to the league Board of Directors by the end of the year.

The league will not consider awarding a new franchise unless owners can present a viable financial and stadium plan.

Beckham has spent the past six months vetting possible investors from all over the world, and figures the project will cost more than $200 million. The biggest hurdle has been finding a stadium.

Beckham toured Sun Life Stadium and FIU Stadium during his June visit. Neither is the perfect solution.

Sun Life Stadium is a perfect venue for big international matches. A crowd of 67,273 showed up in August to see Chelsea against Real Madrid in the International Champions Cup final. And 72,000 packed it for Barcelona vs. Chivas last summer. But the average MLS crowd is 18,594, and even if a Miami team were to draw 25,000 to 30,000, Sun Life would be less than half-full.

Claure is on the Board of Trustees of FIU, and Beckham met with school leaders there, who believe their stadium is the perfect fit because of its size, West Miami location, and international student population.

But league sources are not sold on FIU or Sun Life as permanent homes. They have told potential investors they prefer a privately-funded soccer-specific stadium of 20,000 to 30,000 seats, if possible in an urban area with restaurants and shopping nearby.

Beckham will continue exploring Miami until he finds the right fit.

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