Soccer in Miami

David Beckham’s big project: Design for PortMiami soccer stadium revealed

 

aviglucci@MiamiHerald.com

A group led by retired English soccer star David Beckham is set to unveil its design for a European-style, open-air fútbol stadium at PortMiami that would frame full-frontal views of the downtown skyline and bayfront through an undulating canopy and create a new public plaza reminiscent of Rome’s Spanish Steps at the water’s edge on Biscayne Bay.

The release of the proposed stadium renderings and their purposeful “wow” factor, scheduled for Monday, is intended to build support for locating the home of Beckham’s newly awarded Major League Soccer franchise on a contested piece of the port’s Dodge Island.

“We think it’s time to share our vision,” said John Alschuler, Beckham’s New York-based real-estate advisor, in a wide-ranging interview. “Let’s have a full, vigorous public debate about it.

“We feel a stadium downtown can be a key contributor to the revival of a great city. David loves what it’s becoming, and much of that energy is downtown.”

The fairly fleshed-out stadium blueprint, a collaboration between Miami’s Arquitectonica and 360 Architecture of Kansas City, is designed to capitalize on a bay location that looks back toward downtown — providing visitors a spectacular vista, Alschuler said, “that only fish and private yachts” can now enjoy.

The overall site plan, by Arquitectonica, envisions connecting the stadium and plaza to downtown Miami via an unused drawbridge that would be converted into a linear park for pedestrians. The plaza, ringed by dining and retail establishments, would be programmed by the team with outdoor film screenings, concerts, World Cup broadcasts and other events throughout the year. The stadium would face the plaza with shops, maybe a Beckham museum, and open terraces. It would also have a nightclub open year-round to the public.

“We have a chance to do something special,” Alschuler said. “It can be one of the great stadiums.”

The contemplated site has raised opposition from key port tenant Royal Caribbean Cruises, whose headquarters abuts the site, and some Miami-Dade County commissioners who are concerned it could bring more traffic to the port and interfere with port operations or future expansion. A Royal Caribbean spokeswoman did not respond to an email seeking comment on the plans.

Alschuler concedes that the site poses complex “landlord-tenant issues,” including where to put parking for more than 5,000 cars.

But he says traffic and scheduling studies conducted by his team show that games, held mostly at night, would not overlap with cruise ship arrivals or boardings, which take place during the day. And he said a study of parking shows thousands of available spaces within a short walk of the stadium in downtown Miami, with one caveat: the team would pledge not to schedule games at times when the Miami Heat plays at nearby AmericanAirlines Arena.

If the County Commission doesn’t agree that soccer at the port is a good idea, “we’ll play somewhere else” in Miami, Alschuler said.

“We want to come to the port only if we’re an asset to the port,” he added. “If we’re a liability to the port, then we shouldn’t be there.”

While the plan reasserts the port site as the Beckham group’s strong favorite, the investors say they’re also seriously considering three other sites as backups: land abutting Marlins Park, the preferred alternative; an industrial parcel adjacent to Miami International Airport’s auto-rental and mass-transit hub; and by Florida International University at Tamiami Park.

The land just west of Marlins Park in Little Havana belongs to the county, city and several private owners. The original vision for the ballpark included a soccer stadium, and Alschuler said he has been in talks with the Marlins. But the key player would be the city, and Mayor Tomás Regalado has said he is not inclined to turn over public land to a soccer team without voter approval.

The FIU site had not been mentioned before, and seems unlikely, considering that the university would like to expand into the park fairgrounds and already faces a fight with the Miami-Dade County Fair over use of the property.

Also for the first time, Beckham’s group acknowledged an interest in potentially overseeing the development of the rest of the port site, at the southwest corner of Dodge Island, where port administrators have been looking to build a massive office and commercial district to bring in new revenue.

The 7 million-square-foot plan port administrators have pitched for the site, Alschuler contends, is unfeasible and would badly hurt downtown Miami, which is already struggling with high office-vacancy rates. Instead, the team believes the soccer stadium and plaza would leave enough space for construction of about 1 million square feet of ancillary development, including a hotel, restaurants and shops.

“We’re the way to square the circle of how you get development here, but not pose a threat to downtown,” Alschuler said.

Arquitectonica’s stadium renderings show four accompanying buildings on the western portion of the parcel. Those are conceptual and meant only to suggest how a fully developed site might look, Alschuler and Arquitectonica principal Bernardo Fort-Brescia said.

The group does not want to actually build out the commercial projects, Alschuler stressed. But it would be willing to serve as the site’s “master developer,” charging the county a fee to create a plan for the property and manage it. Developers would bid competitively for projects, which would be awarded by the county commission and pay market rents to county government.

“This is county land,” Alschuler said. “It should be open and competitively bid.”

The mix of uses and open space on the site, he said, satisfies requirements set by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and would ensure it will be a vital, active part of downtown Miami. Stadiums plunked down by themselves without a broader development strategy usually fail to improve their surroundings.

“When done poorly, a stadium can be an anti-urban object, and there’s lots of examples of that,” he said.

The financing of the stadium, however, would not depend on the accompanying development, Alschuler said. The team says it will cover stadium construction without county funds and pay rent for the land, though it is seeking a sales-tax rebate from the state like the one granted to other professional sports franchises in Florida. The group has a construction cost estimate, Alschuler said, but he declined to reveal it.

Still to be determined, he said, is how the cost of public improvements, such as the pedestrian path, a baywalk and the plaza, would be covered. He said it should be split in some equitable proportion between the team and local government.

The team also cannot afford to pay for a multistory parking garage by itself, but has proposed sharing one with Royal Caribbean. To make room for it, the stadium could provide accommodation for the cruise company’s daycare center, which sits directly east of the stadium site, Alschuler said.

The Beckham group is also in “active discussions” with the University of Miami about sharing the stadium with the Hurricanes football team, which now plays at the Miami Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium under a long-term lease. That would require the soccer stadium, now designed for about 20,000 to 25,000 spectators, to grow to about 40,000 seats, complicating the parking picture and scheduling, he said.

The group expects to decide within 60 days whether the UM idea is feasible, Alschuler said.

The proximity to downtown, the group contends, is key to the stadium’s success, and represents the most efficient use of existing public investments and infrastructure, including Metrorail and Metromover stations situated within a 15-minute walk of the stadium. The new port tunnel, which can handle 3,200 vehicles an hour, would keep many motorists driving to the game off downtown streets.

Parking at the AA Arena and along Biscayne Boulevard is a seven- to eight-minute walk over the bridge to the stadium, the group estimates. The team also expects at least 15 percent of its customers to arrive by mass transit and walk to the stadium. A mass “march to the game” is a tradition in great European and South American soccer centers, and has been adopted in some MLS cities, including Seattle.

Because soccer fans gather well before game time and linger afterward to celebrate or drown their sorrows, the stadium would be a social and economic boon to downtown, Alschuler said.

“Soccer is an urban game. David’s tradition is that of the great European soccer venues, and the energy of the game begins outside,” Alschuler said. “We want to create a place of energy and passion.”

The stadium’s design seeks to encourage that energy with an open, tropical feel and steeply raked grandstands like those in Europe and South America that put fans virtually on top of the action on the field, Arquitectonica’s Fort-Brescia said.

The curvaceous canopy would protect fans from the rain and sun, while opening to the sky and the prevailing southeastern breezes. But the stadium would have few other frills, Fort-Brescia said.

“You see a roof shape that’s sexy like Miami,” he said. “It has the potential of bringing back that feeling the Orange Bowl had. It should be informal and relaxed and open, a place where you just go to the game.”

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