Giddy Miami-Dade County commissioners boosted international celebrity David Beckham’s bid Tuesday to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Miami.
In a unanimous vote after heaping praise on soccer as a sport and Beckham as an investor, commissioners gave the go-ahead for Mayor Carlos Gimenez to begin negotiations on a new privately funded soccer stadium.
“It gives a signal to Major League Soccer that we’re very interested in their coming here,” Gimenez said after the vote.
Or, as Commissioner Juan C. Zapata put it from the dais: “Go, soccer! Go, MLS!”
His colleagues — who knew so many loved soccer? — were equally bubbly. But some raised concerns about the behind-the-scenes proposal backed by Beckham’s investment group to build a stadium on county-owned land at PortMiami.
The group has identified the site, on the southwest corner of the seaport across from Bayside Marketplace, as its top choice. It is focusing on downtown Miami locations, citing MLS’ success in other cities drawing spectators to stadiums in urban centers near mass transit.
“We greatly appreciate the support shown by the Miami-Dade County Commission and look forward to continuing to work with Mayor Gimenez, the Commission and David Beckham on finalizing a plan for a new MLS stadium in Miami,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement.
Though the legislation approved Tuesday does not close the door on other investors interested in bringing a franchise, it mentions Beckham’s interest and authorizes Gimenez’s administration to kick off talks for a stadium in downtown, without defining any specific boundaries.
Several commissioners who favor the seaport’s long-term plan to develop mixed-use commercial and residential properties said they’re unsure about a stadium going up at the site.
“I don’t see the relation of a soccer stadium with the big boats and the big cargo that is coming from Panama,” Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa said. “This will be detrimental in there.”
She urged investors to consider other sites. Cobbling together enough privately owned parcels in or near downtown would almost certainly be more expensive.
Gimenez, who has seen more detailed plans from Beckham and his investors, suggested it wouldn’t just be a stadium being built at the seaport but also a “public space” — including perhaps turning the old pedestrian bridge from the mainland into an elevated linear park of sorts, like Manhattan’s High Line.
“The view back to Miami is really spectacular, and very few people get to see that,” the mayor said.
One of the executives hired by Beckham Brand Limited to head the Miami stadium effort, John H. Alschuler Jr. of the HR&A Advisors development firm in New York, is co-chairman of the Friends of the High Line board of directors.
Commissioner Xavier Suarez asked the investors to consider a site just east of the Miami Intermodal Center, which serves as Miami International Airport’s rental-car and mass-transit hub.
In an email to Suarez that the commissioner read aloud from the dais, Neisen Kasdin, an attorney and lobbyist for Beckham’s investors, said they consider that site, Northwest 21st Street and Douglas Road, to be part of “downtown Miami” — though the location is not precisely in the downtown core.
Beckham, alas, did not attend the meeting at County Hall.
But representatives of Beckham Brand Limited and his local corporate entity, Miami Beckham United, sat in the second row of the commission chambers, in front of a small group of fans wearing matching black-and blue “MLS in Miami” T-shirts and scarves. Afterward, the fans posed for photographs with the mayor and some commissioners.
The resolution requires that the stadium be privately funded — or at least, without county dollars — and pay rent if it is located on public land.
Commissioner Barbara Jordan said the rent should be commensurate with market rates; Gimenez said that was fair. There was no language, however, added to the resolution approved Tuesday.
The discussion was markedly different from the previous two hours at Tuesday’s meeting, in which commissioners had debated the unsavory business of continuing to take a bite out of workers’ pay for group healthcare costs.
One by one during the soccer vote, commissioners played up their levels of fandom — Vice-Chairwoman Lynda Bell declared herself to be a former soccer mom — and tried to get a piece of the potential stadium deal for their districts.
Jordan said a new MLS franchise should play temporarily at Sun Life Stadium in her district. Commissioner Bruno Barreiro pitched Marlins Park in his district, touting its retractable roof and the high number of Central Americans who now live in Little Havana.
And Zapata made a pitch for Florida International University’s stadium in his district, warning against Marlins Park, which Beckham and his investors have privately said would be their first choice.
“That would cast a cloud over the whole process,” Zapata said, noting the unpopular public financing for the ballpark. “Some folks here in this community might think us trying to do soccer is some way to prop up the Marlins organization.”
An even more alluring prize for commissioners could be the professional training facility and youth training academies a Beckham MLS franchise would invest in.
Now the county will wait for Beckham, who retired from MLS last spring, to exercise an existing option in his contract to purchase a new franchise for a discounted $25 million.
Joked Bell: “I don’t think we should be able to proceed until I personally meet with David Beckham.”