OK, showtime’s over, the klieg lights have gone dark, the curtain’s come down, the warm handshakes have cooled and the buff guy with the skinny tie is outta here.
It’s official: Soccer legend David Beckham is bringing a Major League Soccer expansion team to Miami — if . . .
And that if is a big one. All that Mr. Beckham and his investors need is a stadium somewhere in greater Miami. It’s that simple. Now that all the hoopla surrounding Mr. Beckham’s presence has gone quiet, the hard part looms. The franchise needs to find a stadium location, and if it is publicly owned property, city of Miami and Miami-Dade County leaders must ensure that they have the taxpayers’ back. A lot of residents think that they’ve been stabbed in it before. And they’re right.
But so far, so good. Mr. Beckham has assured elected officials and taxpayers that he is not asking the public to pay for a stadium. “We don’t want public funding,” he said last week at a reception/cheerleading rally at the Perez Art Museum Miami. “We will fund the stadium ourselves.”
Music to our ears, so far.
Mr. Beckman must have Googled “Marlins Stadium” and “Mayor Carlos Alvarez” and “Oops!” If he did, he learned that Miami-Dade residents’ tolerance for publicly funded stadiums is probably at an all-time low.
They have been down this road before, and have been left holding the bag. When the deal to build the Marlins a new stadium was complete, Miami-Dade County had spent $376.3 million. Miami, responsible for its parking garages, spent $132.5 million. And team owner Jeffrey Loria came up with $125.2 million. But fears the team would leave in a huff was allayed.
The Editorial Board supported the deal, saying that a retractable-roof stadium and parking facility on the old Orange Bowl site would be an asset for the broader community and establish a long-term relationship with the team.
Then came the revelation that the Marlins withheld financials that showed it to be an extremely profitable franchise, even as its hand was out for public funds. The public felt hoodwinked, extravagantly so. Plus, it never got to vote on the deal. Long story short, Miami-Dade County Mayor Alvarez was recalled — his proposed tax hike didn’t mollify already-angry residents — and it’s a whole new ball game.
Under County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, it better be. In the lease agreement with the Marlins, the team got to pocket just about all of the ballpark revenue, including that from ticket sales, food concessions and parking spaces. And, after 14 years, the Miami Heat just last year wrote its first check to the county for $257,134. The team is required to hand over 40 percent of its arena profits above $14 million.
Soccer is extremely popular in South Florida. In August 2011, the game in which Chivas of Guadalajara beat FC Barcelona — 4-1 — drew more than 70,000 people to Sun Life Stadium, a record-setting crowd for a match in Florida.
So far, there are six locations that could be in play as the new stadium site. Each one has advantages and drawbacks, and already hurt feelings and naysaying have surfaced. County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa is concerned that the primary site, at PortMiami, could hinder port growth, right at the point where it is poised to handle the huge Panamax cargo ships. As for the site near the School Board building just north of downtown, board member Perla Hantman said the Beckham team didn’t bother to court anyone on the board.
Clearly, there’s a long road ahead. With the Marlins, elected leaders acted out of fear. With soccer, they can’t be blinded by the dazzle. It’s time for them to just be cautious, questioning and smart.