Royal Caribbean leads alliance against David Beckham soccer stadium at PortMiami

The port interests say they welcome Major League Soccer but don’t want a stadium next to them.

04/14/2014 6:23 PM

04/14/2014 8:45 PM

Royal Caribbean Cruises and its allies have formed an organization to oppose a Major League Soccer stadium at PortMiami, marking the first coordinated resistance to David Beckham’s waterfront dream.

The Miami Seaport Alliance took out a full-page advertisement in Monday’s Miami Herald, titled “Here We Go Again,” to launch its campaign against the 25,000-seat, open-air stadium that Beckham and his representatives have proposed for the port’s shallow-water southwest corner.

“The Alliance wholeheartedly supports a soccer franchise in Miami and believes there are other sites that would benefit greatly from a stadium,” the ad said. “However, PortMiami is not one of them, due to the risks a port stadium would pose to jobs, cruise and cargo operations, security, and the port’s promising future.”

A Coral Gables public-relations firm, Kreps DeMaria, registered the alliance’s website last week, records show, on the same day that several Miami-Dade County commissioners — who voted unanimously in December for Mayor Carlos Gimenez to begin negotiations with Beckham’s team — cautioned that they might not be on board with a stadium at the port.

“People are responding to speculation,” John Alschuler, Beckham’s real-estate adviser, said Monday. “I’ve got confidence that commissioners, when presented with a formal recommendation by the mayor — and a full, factual briefing — will respond to the facts.”

Other stadium locations, including next to the Miami Marlins’ Little Havana ballpark, are also under consideration, though Beckham has said PortMiami, with its views of the downtown skyline, is his top choice.

Gimenez has vowed to charge “fair” rent for any stadium on county-owned land. Beckham has pledged private funding for stadium construction, though his franchise is seeking a state subsidy that could amount to $40 million over 20 years.

Heading the anti-port stadium group is John Fox, former vice president for governmental relations of Royal Caribbean, the only major cruise company with headquarters at the port that had already voiced its opposition. Royal Caribbean’s campus overlaps part of the proposed 12-acre stadium site.

In addition to Royal Caribbean, Fox said another cruise company is taking part in the alliance, though he declined to name it. Carnival Corp. and Norwegian Cruise Line, the two other big companies operating in Miami, said they are not involved. Several other companies have a smaller port presence.

Other alliance members include two stevedoring companies that load and unload cargo from ships and two local unions representing longshoremen, Fox said.

Jorge Rovirosa of Florida Stevedoring, one of the alliance members, said that if PortMiami wants to meet its goal of doubling cargo traffic in the next 10 years, as proposed by the port’s former director, it needs to protect its space and road access.

“That’s the only location we have for the port,” he said. “There are many locations for soccer.”

He added that just because the port’s southwest corner is too shallow to accommodate cargo or cruise ships doesn’t mean the area couldn’t be dredged in decades to come to make room for larger vessels.

But the debt-laden port hasn’t even considered that scenario. Instead, its master plan — created before any talk of a stadium arose — envisions a massive development of office highrises on the entire, 36-acre southwest corner, to bring in much-needed revenue from non-maritime sources. Downtown interests on the mainland have criticized that plan and, as an alternative, support the stadium.

Neither Fox nor Rovirosa explicitly opposed the port’s broader development plan. But, Fox said, “What the alliance thinks is that port property should be used for port purposes.”

Alschuler dismissed Royal Caribbean as a reliable naysayer on port projects, noting that it and others declared themselves against a port tunnel when it was first proposed. Fox countered that the cruise company backed off after some of its concerns about the tunnel — which is scheduled to be inaugurated next month — had been addressed.

According to Alschuler, in three meetings with Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean’s chief executive, the company had not articulated concrete reasons for opposing a port stadium. Beckham’s representatives have said traffic and parking concerns are misleading because a study they commissioned, which has not been made public in its entirety, showed peak cruise-passenger traffic would not coincide with soccer games.

Gimenez said Royal Caribbean hasn’t raised any new concerns that he didn’t already bring up to Beckham’s group — for the port site and other locations.

“All sites will have some issues,” Gimenez said. “Any time Mr. Fox would actually like to see me, which he hasn’t about this issue, then I’d be happy to sit down with him.”

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