I haven’t met David Beckham yet, but everyone who has says he’s charming, smart, unpretentious, down to earth and, oh yeah, very good looking. It’s not only ladies who swoon over Becks, guys can go a little ga-ga, too.
Check out the selfies from his visit to Tallahassee where a gaggle of male politicians, starting with the governor, raced to pose with the English superstar. Look, Ma, I’m with someone really famous! Becks has what you could call a high celebrity rub-off factor.
Beckham and his high-priced team of lobbyists, lawyers and PR mavens got no firm commitment from legislative leaders for a $2-million-a-year stadium sales-tax rebate (worth $40 million over 20 years), but I bet the pics taken with him were widely distributed. Same is true in Miami, where Beckham has played a masterful public relations game. He finessed the media at his one news conference, and then leavened his celebrity with quiet, unpublicized visits to Miami Children’s Hospital and historically black Florida Memorial University where he met with the soccer team.
So Beckham’s charm offensive has won him style points and personal credibility, but is it enough to win him 12 acres of county-owned land on the southwest corner of PortMiami? Famed architect Bernardo Fort-Brescia of Arquitectonica says the stadium he and his firm designed would “fit like a glove on the site,” right down to the requisite north-south configuration of the field. Don’t want our goalie to have the sun in his eyes, do you?
The Arquitectonica design is sleek and swoopy, putting fans close to the field and giving them breathtaking views of the Miami skyline. In addition, there’s an attractive plaza leading down to the water around which there would be restaurants, clubs and shops. A real urban meeting place on Biscayne Bay, one-upping Bayside Marketplace.
But Port Director Bill Johnson has long had other plans for that land — a 7-million-square-foot mix of Class A office buildings, condos and a hotel or two. The port, which has sizable debts, would get a lot of revenue. However, Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, whose district includes the port, calls Johnson’s plan anti-free market and unfair to private development in downtown Miami. He’s got a point.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The larger question is this: Does it make sense to build a soccer stadium at the world’s busiest cruise port and one that’s preparing to welcome Panamax cargo ships?
Royal Caribbean, whose headquarters building abuts the potential stadium site, is dead set against it.
I imagine the shipping and trucking companies that can’t wait for the port tunnel to open don’t like the idea of sharing it with the cars of soccer fans. And where, pray tell, would those fans park once they’re on port property? And could the soccer matches really be scheduled so as to not interfere with cruise-ship arrivals and departures, Heat games and other events at the AAA? The Beckham team says yes, but it would take some nifty juggling of schedules.
Beckham says many fans would march en masse to the games, as they do in Europe, across an old pedestrian bridge that would be turned into a linear, green park much like High Line in lower Manhattan. But will fans really be willing to walk to games in the heat and rain of August and September? There’s clearly a need for a mass transit component — a Metromover leg? — if the port’s to work as the stadium site.
The Beckham group surely has done its market research, but I wonder if there is a big enough fan base to support professional soccer in South Florida. The average attendance for existing MLS teams is 18,000 fans per game.
The Marlins, in their shiny, subsidized new ball park, averaged just 19,584 last year — and we’re talking about the national pastime, not soccer. Besides, aren’t most soccer fans out in the ’burbs, not downtown?
Perhaps the biggest question of all concerns financing. Team Beckham says they’ll pay for the stadium. But how much will they pay to lease the land? How much do they expect in government-supplied infrastructure?
Come on back, Becks. We have questions for you. Hope you have answers.