David Beckham’s top negotiator in Miami offered bleak words about prospects for the long-delayed deal for a Major League Soccer stadium, telling a Toronto newspaper, “I have my fears as to whether it’s going to get done,” amid litigation over a no-bid deal to buy county land for the 25,000-seat privately financed facility.
“I hope it gets done, but it’s not done,” Tim Leiweke, a Beckham partner and the lead executive in the group pursuing a Miami MLS franchise, told the Toronto Sun in an article published Tuesday. “I have my fears as to whether it’s going to get done, because things like this drag on this long that’s always tough on a process. But for David I hope he lands somewhere.”
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Leiweke’s comments were a bolt of pessimism near the end of the most productive year yet for Beckham’s four-year quest for a Miami stadium. Miami-Dade County in June agreed to sell his stadium group a three-acre storage depot in Overtown for $9 million, completing a nine-acre assemblage the Beckham partnership wants for the open-air venue. In August, MLS owners gave tentative approval to granting Beckham and partners a Miami franchise at a discounted price of $25 million, a break the retired soccer star secured a decade earlier when he agreed to play for the league in Los Angeles.
But neither of the deals is final — the Beckham group has more than a year to pay the county, and MLS owners assigned final franchise negotiations to a committee. And while Leiweke at one point predicted final league approval by the summer, the continued lack of a deal tracks with private concerns in the Beckham camp about a legal challenge filed by wealthy activist Bruce Matheson.
Matheson, who owns property in Spring Garden near the proposed stadium site off of Northwest Seventh Street, claims Miami-Dade erred in granting Beckham’s group exclusive negotiations to purchase the three-acre site for $9 million. Mayor Carlos Gimenez cited state economic-development law in allowing the no-bid deal, and a Miami-Dade judge sided with him in October. But Matheson is expected to appeal and a final ruling could take months.
The uncertainty from the suit, coupled with a lack of final MLS approval, hinted at some potential trouble behind the scenes after years of fizzled deals and setbacks. Beckham and partners, including Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, had been hunting for a majority investor to bankroll a rare sports stadium to be built without tax breaks, free land or local subsidies. In April, Todd Boehly, an owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, signed on as majority partner for the Beckham soccer venture. But it’s unclear whether he has fully committed to bankroll the effort, or whether the agreement rests on final MLS approval.
The comments from Leiweke, a longtime Toronto sports mogul, offered the first on-the-record signal of real trouble. He hinted at MLS resistance to granting the Miami franchise.
“It would be unfortunate for the league to not honor the job he did and the decision he made,” Leiweke said of Beckham. “His best work would still be ahead of us if we could figure out a way to get him involved with a franchise.”
“But our company has a lot of different projects,” Leiweke continued in the Sun interview. “I haven’t spent a lot of time on Miami lately so I’m not sure if that gets done. I hope it does for David’s sake.”
The last time Leiweke expressed significant doubt about a Miami stadium deal was when the Beckham group was negotiating for a site next to Marlins Park in Little Havana. In the fall of 2015, he said resistance from private landowners there “would probably blow up” the deal, and it was officially dead weeks later. That was Beckham’s third pick for a site, after failed efforts for waterfront stadiums at Port Miami and downtown Miami. After the Little Havana effort fizzled, the Beckham group announced plans for the Overtown stadium.
Tadd Schwartz, a Miami spokesman for the Beckham group, declined to comment on Tuesday.
While the Beckham group controls the stadium site thanks to the county deal and an earlier purchase from private owners, it still must win city approval from Miami for street closings and the zoning needed to build the stadium. That process also could be subject to legal challenges, as Matheson and Spring Garden homeowners have already voiced noise and traffic concerns.