Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Remember the goal

 

OUR OPINION: Community leaders must protect public interest in finding site for soccer stadium

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

In bad soccer, players are unable to control the ball properly, and the match degenerates into a tiresome succession of bruising tackling battles to possess a 50-50 ball — anyone’s ball. The current debate over where to locate a Major League Soccer stadium in Miami threatens to turn into something similar.

That shouldn’t happen, so let’s clear the air.

First, Miami and soccer are a perfect match. As retired soccer great David Beckham told the Miami Herald Editorial Board in a meeting last week, MLS has had to make the case in other cities that it could indeed be a success. In Miami, he said, the question is not “why” MLS would choose Miami, but “where” the arena would be.

That goes to the heart of the issue. Three sites are in play, and one of them, near the ballpark in Little Havana, has been all but ruled out by Mr. Beckham’s team. “Spiritually tainted,” said Simon Fuller, Mr. Beckham’s business partner. An apt phrase, given the continuing heartburn over the Marlins’ costly deal — costly, at least, for the Miami and Miami-Dade County.

Further, he said, the ballpark’s footprint would make the smaller soccer stadium look insignificant, transportation is a problem and opportunities for development that would make the location more enticing for fans are scant.

Whether such claims stand up to scrutiny should be part of the ongoing debate. But if the site is indeed unsuitable, it leaves only two others, and both are on public waterfront land: One is a PortMiami site, which the Beckham team prefers. The other is a filled, deep-water boat slip next to AmericanAirlines Arena proposed by County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Great views, two glittering skylines facing each other across the Intracoastal Waterway and the accessibility and increasing vibrancy of downtown. Both are coveted sites, and that makes it all the more important for Mr. Gimenez and city of Miami leaders like Mayor Tomás Regalado to safeguard the public interest.

The league will not grant a franchise if the stadium is not located downtown, Mr. Beckham’s team said. But, critics shoot back, why does it have to be on the water? Isn’t the port area inappropriate, given that most locals go there, if they go at all, only to board cruises or do business involving cargo? And it’s a schlep to get there from Biscayne Boulevard.

As for the the second area, critics such as former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and three former commissioners say the public need for green space overrides all other commercial considerations. Leave it be, they say.

To that we would add potential environmental problems or obstacles that would arise in filling in the boat slip. These may be minimal, or not, but the concerns must be fully explored before any deal is made.

Mr. Beckham and his backers, including Miami-based billionaire Marcelo Claure, have made a significant and welcome promise to this community: “The stadium won’t cost local taxpayers a dime. The stadium will be privately funded.” That was from a full-page ad signed by Mr. Claure. And, backers say they will pay fair market price for any public land they use.

Mayor Gimenez and other local officials should ensure that all such commitments are legally binding and that the interests of taxpayers and residents are fully protected. The prospect of an MLS team and David Beckham’s involvement hold great promise, but let’s make sure this one turns into a win for both soccer and for our community.

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