David Beckham’s representatives continue to try to win hearts and minds for their proposed Major League Soccer stadium at PortMiami by reaching out to civic groups.
It’s a campaign with a much lower profile than the public unveiling of Beckham’s plans last week, which drew a throng of reporters and the retired English footballer himself to talk up a potential 25,000-seat, open-air stadium with views of the downtown skyline.
On Friday, John Alschuler, the New York-based real-estate advisor for the Miami Beckham United group, stood alone before some 50 people at a luncheon organized by a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce committee.
To turn a professional Miami soccer franchise into an international brand, “we need to do it in an environment that captures people’s imagination,” Alschuler said — preferably by the water.
Negotiations with Miami-Dade County over the port site are ongoing and face significant hurdles, including opposition from Royal Caribbean Cruises, whose campus is on part of the county-owned property. Key county commissioners have also said they are skeptical and fear a stadium would hinder the port’s growth and cause traffic headaches.
Also against the site is Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who said he worries fans trying to reach the stadium using the soon-to-be-inaugurated Port Tunnel would cause traffic backups for Miami Beach residents on the MacArthur Causeway.
“I love soccer and I’m so excited about it coming to Miami-Dade County,” he said. “That’s just an inappropriate location.”
Someday, people might be able to reach the port by train, ferry or bus on a dedicated rapid-transit lane, Alschuler said. But for now, he acknowledged that most fans would arrive by car.
“There will be traffic. There’s no magic solution,” he said.
A study commissioned by Beckham’s group, which has yet to release the full report, suggests there would be minimal overlap with cruise passengers, who arrive and depart earlier than when most MLS games are played, usually on Saturday evenings between March and October.
Soccer would avoid a parking crunch by agreeing to schedule matches around basketball games and other events at the nearby AmericanAirlines Arena, since the two facilities would use the same parking lots along Biscayne Boulevard.
Art Noriega, head of the Miami Parking Authority, said after attending Friday’s event that there should be enough parking to accommodate a port stadium on nights when the arena is not in use. “I don’t think parking is going to be a concern,” he said.
More problematic is what to do about pedestrians crossing Biscayne Boulevard, Noriega added, saying that’s already a “choke point” even without a soccer stadium, which, as proposed by Beckham’s group, could be reached on foot by turning an unused drawbridge into a linear park.
One county commissioner, Xavier Suarez, has said local government should consider pushing for a pedestrian bridge over the boulevard. Alschuler said Friday that such a bridge could help but is not envisioned in Beckham’s plans. Neither is extending the Metromover to the port, which Alschuler said would be too expensive.
A stadium could open by 2018, Alschuler said, giving a more conservative estimate than Beckham, who has said 2017. The nine-acre stadium would leave about 1 million square feet available for commercial development, which the port has long envisioned on the southwest corner site, which is too shallow for cargo or cruise ships.
Alschuler has said Beckham’s enterprise would be interested in charging the county a fee to serve as the master developer for the rest of the site — essentially managing planning and construction bids on behalf of Miami-Dade. Regardless of who oversees it, Alschuler predicted Friday that the location and views would draw at least one hotel.
Beckham and his investors would privately finance stadium construction, though they are seeking a state subsidy that could amount to $40 million over 20 years.
The group has made its pitch to other civic organizations in recent weeks, and the audience at Friday’s event, held at the Hilton Miami Downtown, seemed appreciative. Former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferré, who now chairs the board of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, praised the presentation but said he still has more questions.
“How does soccer make money? Are they committed to stay here if only 4,000 or 5,000 fans show up for the first three years?” he said. “I have an open mind. I started out with a no. Right now, I’m a maybe.”
Beckham’s group hasn’t discarded other possible stadium locations, including adjacent to the Miami Marlins’ ballpark in Little Havana.
That site would work “pretty nicely,” Alschuler said, though he added, “It has no [public] transit, and you cannot walk there from downtown.”
When an audience member asked him if a second Little Havana sports facility could help redevelop the area — as the Marlins promised when they lobbied for their mostly publicly financed ballpark — Alschuler said no.
There’s no commercial land in the neighborhood available for rebuilding, he said. And while the four parking garages built for baseball are a plus for building another stadium, the multistory decks impede adjacent redevelopment.
“They’re dead. They’re boxes,” he said. “No energy seeps out.”