Soccer

David Beckham, investors have identified six potential soccer stadium sites

 

pmazzei@MiamiHerald.com

David Beckham has jetted off. Rabid soccer fans have gone home. Paparazzi have trained their cameras elsewhere.

Now comes the real work for Beckham and his investors hoping to bring an expansion Major League Soccer franchise to Miami.

The sports venture hinges on building a new soccer stadium. And finding a home for one won’t be easy.

To replicate the MLS’ success in other cities, Beckham’s group wants 10 to 12 acres downtown near public transportation, to lure fans and save on parking costs. Oh, and bay views would be nice.

Few sites fit even some, much less all, of that criteria — especially if a deal has to be completed within the next six months or so, now that Beckham has exercised an option in his contract to purchase a new franchise for a discounted $25 million.

The retired English footballer and his investors, who formed the corporate entity Miami Beckham United, have pledged to pay for stadium construction mostly with private money. They’re seeking a state subsidy for new sports facilities.

And they would prefer that Miami-Dade County help them get a publicly owned site, though the mayor and commissioners have said they would expect Beckham and his investors to pay a fair price for any public property.

The Beckham group has scouted some 30 locations. Six so far have been mentioned by the investors as contenders in negotiations that will continue Monday with Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration, though the list is fluid.

Each site would require a different level of government involvement. Some face long odds. All have upsides and downsides.

Here’s how they break down:

PortMiami

The focus of the investors has been waterfront, county-owned property on the southwest corner of PortMiami.

WHY IT COULD WORK: For Beckham and his investors — so far, the group includes Simon Fuller, who is Beckham’s longtime business partner, and Marcelo Claure, the Miami-based billionaire who heads a global wireless distributor — the 36-acre seaport site seems ideal.

It’s owned by a single government, so the group would likely need to ink only one land deal. It’s just a bridge away from Biscayne Boulevard, with access to parking and the Metromover. The views are spectacular.

A mega-yacht marina lined by restaurants and shops, which planners have contemplated for the location, could still go up next to a stadium, county administrators have said, as could limited additional development.

Visitors could walk onto the Dodge Island site by crossing a landscaped pedestrian bridge, and the location — which is too shallow to accommodate cargo or cruise ships — could become a gathering place, Gimenez said last week.

“We not only want to create an iconic — we want them to create an iconic stadium,” he said, correcting himself, “but also a great public space.”

WHY IT MIGHT NOT: An existing seaport master plan proposed commercial development, including offices and a hotel, on the site. Those projects would bring much-needed revenue unrelated to the cargo and cruise business to the indebted port, and it’s unlikely a stadium lease would match the rents.

Skeptics have noted that a pedestrian bridge would probably have a grade of some sort — making the walk to the stadium more of a hike — and be challenging in the summer heat and humidity.

Beckham said he doesn’t think a seaport location would compete with the Miami Heat for sports fans or concert bookings. But some politicians have said they fear gridlock on nights when both a stadium and the AmericanAirlines Arena, less than a mile away, host events.

The most vocal critic has been County Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, who has repeatedly said she doesn’t want to hamper the seaport’s potential growth. She has also said she can’t justify having asked taxpayers to help fund the new port tunnel to relieve auto traffic only to build a stadium to attract more cars.

And she has suggested commissioners could ask for a public vote on any deal.

“I firmly believe the port is not an ideal location,” Sosa told a Spanish-language radio station last week. “It’s going to bring more headaches.”

Though the parcel is county-owned, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado has also noted a potential wrinkle: The city once deeded a portion of the seaport to Miami-Dade. A restriction in the deed requires the land to be used for port purposes. Otherwise, it’s possible it could revert to the city.

By Marlins Park

Two locations near the Miami Marlins’ ballpark in Little Havana have been mentioned.

The first site is west of Marlins Park, on three city-owned parcels currently used as green space and parking lots and on six privately owned residential and office properties. Taken together, the land along Northwest 17th Avenue amounts to nearly 10 acres.

The second site, on 19 acres of county-owned land northeast of the ballpark on the shores of the Miami River, appears far less feasible. There’s a public-housing facility for the elderly on the property.

WHY THEY COULD WORK: In a word: parking. Miami built four garages adjacent to Marlins Park, and the neighborhood, which used to house the Orange Bowl, is used to renting out temporary parking spaces for events. The city also has a free-of-charge trolley line that loops in riders.

Other cities have created successful sports districts, with side-by-side venues and surrounding bars and shops fans can visit on the way in and out. The initial Miami-Dade ballpark plan proposed a soccer venue next to baseball.

WHY THEY MIGHT NOT: For the first site, the investors would have to negotiate with the city, where politicians have dealt with the fallout of the unpopular public-financing deal for the Marlins.

Regalado said no one has contacted him about the site, and he would only consider it “if we have a referendum, and only if we can sell the land at market rate.” (“ Ese perro nos mordió ya,” he added in Spanish — literally, “that dog bit us already,” or been there, done that.)

For the second site, the county would have to relocate the Robert King High Towers housing facility, which comprises two 14-story high-rises. Gregg Fortner, director of the county’s public housing and community development department, said through a spokeswoman Friday that there is “no possibility” of public-housing property being used for a soccer stadium.

Both sites would have to contend with the same problems facing the Marlins, whose ballpark has had trouble attracting fans as well as businesses to the neighborhood. The park had been pitched as a catalyst for redevelopment.

The Marlins and a soccer team would also have to deal with scheduling challenges, given that their seasons overlap — though MLS plays far fewer matches.

Near School Board

The School Board owns a nearly two-acre parcel north of its downtown headquarters, which it uses as a parking lot, as well as several other small parcels nearby.

WHY IT COULD WORK: It’s downtown, next to a Metromover stop.

WHY IT MIGHT NOT: The School Board parking-lot parcel by itself is not nearly big enough for a stadium. The investors would have to buy up quite a few neighboring privately owned properties — a process that could take longer than they have to exercise Beckham’s contract option.

That’s assuming the School Board would even be willing to talk to Beckham’s group. It didn’t go unnoticed by the elected board members that they didn’t receive invitations last week to Beckham’s movers-and-shakers reception.

“I think they totally disrespected the board,” Chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman said at a School Board meeting the next day. “And if we don’t demand respect, we’ll never get it.”

Wynwood

The investors have identified about 12 acres on Northwest 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue that once comprised the Wynwood Foreign Trade Zone, a boondoggle economic development project that never got off the ground.

WHY IT COULD WORK: Two properties — one 8 1/2 acres, the other about 3 acres — have a single private owner, New York entrepreneur Moishe Mana. On them are warehouses that have served as television and film production studios. The county owns an additional acre or so of adjacent land.

That split means most of the transaction would not involve the government, making Beckham and his investors much more popular politically.

WHY IT MIGHT NOT: The site is not near any public transit. For Beckham’s group, it would likely involve a higher investment to purchase a significant tract of private land at market rate and then build a parking garage. The investors might be willing to pay for land or pay for parking, but perhaps not both.

By Miami International Airport

County Commissioner Xavier Suarez asked Beckham’s group to take a look at an 8 1/2-acre site belonging to the Florida Department of Transportation and private owners east of the Miami Intermodal Center, Miami International Airport’s car-rental and mass-transit hub.

WHY IT COULD WORK: It’s a central location with a neighboring Metrorail stop.

WHY IT MIGHT NOT: Suarez toured the site with John Alschuler, the New York developer working for Beckham’s group, and concluded a stadium wouldn’t fit unless the county closed off a portion of Douglas Road.

The investors would also have to spend about $80 million to build a parking garage, Suarez has said, in addition to paying for the prime private property.

Miami Herald staff writers Douglas Hanks and David Smiley contributed to this report.

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