Miami-Dade commissioners on Tuesday refused to let PortMiami relocate a fuel-spill facility that would need to move for David Beckham’s proposed soccer stadium and entertainment complex.
Port officials faced a wave of skeptical comments and questions from commissioners over the port’s future, including concerns that Mayor Carlos Gimenez might be pursuing a port stadium that the commission won’t support.
“I think there’s a sentiment that it should not be in play,’’ Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo said of the port as a soccer option. “There may be a majority on this commission who do not want it in play.”
Beckham’s side did not get a chance to speak Tuesday, though one of the soccer star’s lobbyists spent the entire day in commission chambers. The discussion danced around the soccer question as commissioners questioned whether to approve a relocation option for the fuel-spill facility that would let port officials move the warehouse at a cost of $6 million.
Port officials want the proposed stadium site for a new commercial complex, despite opposition from downtown Miami brokers and developers warning of a glutted office market. Juan Kuryla, who took over as port director this week from Bill Johnson, said the plan was to exercise the relocation option only if the port had a developer ready to reimburse Miami-Dade the cost of moving Marine Spill Response Corp.
The facility sits on land just west of where Beckham would build a stadium, and a recent plan from his development team showed the area being home to hotels and commercial space that would occupy an entertainment complex anchored by the arena. Commissioners voted against the extension, saying they first wanted a developer signed on to cover the relocation costs.
The setback for Kuryla came just hours after commissioners officially endorsed the long-time port deputy as the replacement for Johnson, who is the county’s new water-and-sewer director. The debate captured the political complications facing Beckham as his team combats cruise line Royal Caribbean, which is opposed to bringing soccer to the world’s busiest cruise-ship port.
Commissioner Audrey Edmonson asked Gimenez, who was in Tallahassee on Tuesday, to appear before the panel to discuss the port’s future. “I’m being asked all kinds of questions, and I can’t answer one of them,” she said.
Deputy Mayor Chip Iglesias said the port is still “in play” as a potential stadium site, though other locations also are possibilities. He emphasized that the port’s three-year-old development plan called for moving the fuel facility, and that Miami-Dade would want the relocation option even if soccer had not been on the table.
Earlier in the day, commissioners gave PortMiami the authority to pursue a $225 million bond offering, which will bring the port’s debt past the $1 billion mark. While the port has been able to pledge only cruise and cargo fees to some debt obligations in the past, it now needs the county’s coffers as a guarantee in order to avoid higher interest rates.
“Miami-Dade is investing in its port,” Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa said. “This is the payment for those investments.”
The debt is part of what Moody’s expects to be nearly $400 million in new borrowing by Florida’s largest port by the end of the decade. The new money is to pay for an underwater tunnel set to open in May connecting the port to the MacArthur Causeway, along with larger cranes and other improvements to accommodate bigger cargo ships coming through an expanded Panama Canal.
New traffic through the Panama Canal will be key to meeting future debt obligations, said Ed Marquez, deputy mayor for finance. The port is counting on higher cargo levels, along with a growing cruise business, to boost revenue in future years as debt payments rise. The canal expansion is expected to finish by 2016.
“We need the Panama Canal to open up,” Marquez said. “We’re relying on future things to occur to meet debt service.”
Beckham wants port land for a soccer stadium, upending a port plan to build a new commercial district on the land. Port officials have said they need the real estate revenue as a cushion against shortfalls in cruise or cargo revenue.
Commissioners kept soccer out of the debt discussion, though Sosa dropped a few strong hints of her objections to Beckham’s plans. She pressed Kuryla on how costly it would be for a cruise-ship company to move vessels to another port.
“Let’s say one company gets mad,’’ Sosa said. “And they decide to leave for a port that is offering angels to them.”
Kuryla answered: “That can cost us millions of dollars.”