A judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit accusing Miami-Dade of improperly selling three acres of land to David Beckham and his partners for a soccer stadium in Miami.
Judge Rodolfo Ruiz issued his ruling immediately after both sides completed their arguments in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, handing a swift victory to Beckham’s stadium partnership and the administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who negotiated the $9 million no-bid land deal.
Bruce Matheson, a wealthy activist who owns property near the planned stadium site in Overtown, sued the county, arguing that he should have been given the chance to purchase the three-acre parcel during a competitive bidding process. County lawyers argued that Miami-Dade was shielded from bidding rules by Florida’s economic development law, which gives local governments broad authority to sell property if it will benefit the economy.
“The county didn’t sell property” to Beckham and partners, Oren Rosenthal, a Miami-Dade lawyer, told the judge. “The county bought economic development.”
Ruiz sided with the county, saying it made little sense for Florida to create an economic development statute with rules on land sales only to open the deals up to anyone willing to pay more for the real estate. He cited an example of Miami-Dade offering Amazon county land to build a second headquarters but then being unable to actually offer the property in a deal.
“Okay, Amazon, we’re going to have you come down,” Ruiz said. “Oh, by the way, go out and bid. …
“It moots the whole process of drawing in investment,” he said. “Aren’t we effectively killing opportunity by opening up to bids when we’ve structured it in a way to create jobs and draw investment in?”
Though the ruling is a win for Beckham’s four-year quest for a Miami stadium, it does not offer legal finality. Ruiz said the law involving no-bid land sales is tricky, and that Matheson’s lawsuit would likely be decided on appeal.
“I found this to be an extremely challenging decision,” he said. “Brighter minds than me will tell me whether I was right or wrong.”
Miami-Dade commissioners approved the land sale in June, along with requirements that Beckham create 50 full-time jobs at a 25,000-seat stadium that would rise on a nine-acre site he and his partners have assembled. The county requires him to spend at least $175 million on construction.
The county vote was considered a milestone moment, but the Beckham group has largely stayed quiet on the stadium front. No Beckham partners attended the hearing, and Beckham himself hasn’t made a Miami appearance in connection with the stadium effort for at least a year. Joseph Rebak, of Miami’s Akerman firm, represented the Beckham group at the hearing.
Matheson’s lawyer, Enrique Arana of Carlton Fields, argued that it would be wrong for Ruiz to create a way for Miami-Dade to exclude other potential buyers from a real estate deal. “The public is entitled to a fair process for the sale of public land,” he said. “Competitive bidding makes sure the public gets the best deal.”
Gimenez’s office issued a statement Wednesday evening that read: “This is a victory for Miamians who love the sport of soccer. Mr. Matheson has been an opponent of professional sports in Miami-Dade County and Mayor Gimenez and his administration are proud to have supported Miami Beckham United’s pursuit of a privately-financed soccer stadium in the city of Miami.”