Soccer icon David Beckham’s pursuit of a downtown Miami stadium for a potential Major League Soccer team will face its first public political test next week.
A Miami-Dade County Commission vote scheduled for Tuesday would authorize Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration to identify possible stadium sites and negotiate construction contracts with any interested private developers.
That would begin talks in earnest between the county and Beckham and his investors, who have approached Gimenez about building a 25,000-seat stadium on public land on PortMiami’s Dodge Island.
Even if the seaport were to be deemed unsuitable, the legislation before commissioners would limit any other sites to downtown, an area of imprecise borders that both Beckham and MLS have identified as the preferred location to attract soccer fans.
“Success of MLS in this country has been due to urban, downtown locations” near people and public transportation, said Neisen Kasdin, a local attorney and lobbyist for Beckham’s investment group. “David and Victoria Beckham and sort of what they stand for is hip, urban cool.”
Beckham, who retired from the league last spring, is interested in exercising an existing option in his contract to purchase a franchise at a deeply discounted $25 million. He has said he would like to present a proposal to MLS directors by the end of the year.
His investment group, Beckham Brand Limited, scouted numerous sites over the past few months before settling on the seaport as its top choice. The group created a new Florida corporate entity this week, Miami Beckham United, specifically for the project, and registered veteran lobbyist Jose Villalobos as another one of its County Hall representatives.
The corporate name Miami Beckham United fueled speculation about a future MLS team name — Beckham once played for England’s Manchester United — but Kasdin dismissed the suggestion.
“There’s no team name that’s implied in that,” he said.
Tuesday’s resolution would allow Gimenez to “negotiate and finalize” agreements to develop a stadium and then present the contracts to commissioners for approval. Three public meetings would be required before any vote, according to the resolution.
The legislation is sponsored by Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, whose district includes downtown. “It’s major-league sports. It adds value to a community,” he said.
A couple of commissioners complained last month that the mayor had not kept them in the loop on Beckham’s fast-paced stadium plans, though administrators had telephoned board members to advise them that the investors had approached the county about their interest in the PortMiami site.
Stadiums are a sensitive topic for Miami-Dade politicians, who remember all too well that voters ousted former County Mayor Carlos Alvarez two years ago in part for supporting the publicly financed Miami Marlins’ ballpark in Little Havana.
Still, Gimenez negotiated — and most commissioners approved sending to the voters — a short-lived proposal earlier this year to use some public dollars to help the Miami Dolphins pay for a roof and other renovations to Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. State lawmakers effectively killed the plan.
Barreiro’s legislation would set terms for Gimenez’s negotiations, chief among them that no county funds be used toward the soccer stadium. The private developer would be responsible for the costs.
If the stadium were to be built on county-owned land such as the seaport, then the developer will have to pay rent, the resolution says. It does not specify whether the rent would have to be at market rate.
Gimenez’s administration would also have to produce a report on the stadium’s feasibility, including its impact on the economy, business and traffic.
PortMiami’s long-term master plan envisions commercial and business development on its southwestern corner, across from Bayside Marketplace. That sort of construction would require a new zoning designation that port administrators have been drafting for months.
That designation, scheduled for a preliminary vote Thursday, would not allow for a sports facility, though a stadium use could be added later.
Port Director Bill Johnson said last week that he is open to at least considering the stadium idea on the portion of the port that cannot accommodate cruise ships or cargo vessels.
“These 36 acres are probably some of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the state of Florida. They are very, very, very important,” he said.
“No one is giving away publicly owned land for free — not for soccer, not for anyone,” Johnson added. “The mayor has made it very clear if there is a soccer stadium, it will be built by the soccer folks.”