Depending on who’s talking, David Beckham’s proposed Major League Soccer stadium at PortMiami is either a “land grab” by the retired English footballer and his investors — or a thorn in the side of Royal Caribbean Cruises and its “secret agenda” to develop the waterfront, publicly owned property.
Beckham’s group and its chief detractor, the Miami Seaport Alliance, traded those and other barbs Wednesday during a debate at the Downtown Bay Forum. It was the first time the two sides went up against each other in public, instead of on television.
If Beckham and his investors really intend to privately fund construction of a $250 million stadium to be used about 25 times a year, then they must plan to make their money by developing the remaining port property, argued John Fox, a Royal Caribbean lobbyist who heads the alliance.
“Either they’re bad business people, or there’s something else going on,” he said. “We think this might be a land grab.”
Miami Beckham United has said it could oversee the development of the entire, 36-acre port property after building a 25,000-seat stadium on about 12 acres, though the county would be able to bid the actual construction work to outside firms as well.
The group’s lobbyist, Neisen Kasdin, tried to turn the tables on Fox by suggesting Royal Caribbean, with its port headquarters, must have a “secret agenda” to develop the site itself. Port administrators had envisioned a major commercial development on the property.
“Sometimes where there’s smoke, there’s a smoke machine,” he said.
The Seaport Alliance, which includes cargo interests and auto magnate Norman Braman, unveiled a collection of television and radio ads last week comparing Beckham’s stadium to the unpopular ballpark deal for the Miami Marlins. The Latin American Business Association has signed onto the coalition, as have 11 mayors from cities across Miami-Dade County, including Homestead, Coral Gables and North Miami Beach.
With Beckham’s group pledging to pay for stadium construction and to pay a market-rate lease for public property, the soccer debate has centered instead on where a stadium could go. (The group is seeking a state subsidy that acts like a sales-tax rebate.)
As alternatives to the port, the group has mentioned sites next to Marlins Park, by the airport’s Intermodal Center and at Florida International University. But County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is still in talks with Beckham’s representatives over a potential port deal.
“The port does not have to be the site, but it has to be downtown or near downtown,” Kasdin said, citing the success of other MLS teams such as Seattle and Portland.
Fox scoffed at the suggestion, noting that most MLS teams play outside of urban centers and adding that the league doesn’t have a high enough profile to merit more prominent locations.
“This is not World Cup soccer. It’s not FIFA soccer,” he said, referring to soccer’s world governing body. “It’s usually on ESPN4.”
MLS fans were quick to note on Twitter that there is no ESPN4, and FIFA doesn’t actually run a league (only tournaments like the World Cup). Kasdin said Beckham is joining the league as a franchise owner in part to elevate its profile.
But Fox’s broader point was that the port is expected to grow its cargo and cruise business in the future and could find better uses for its southwest corner, which is too shallow to accommodate large ships. Cargo containers could be stored there, he said — and was promptly rebuffed by Kasdin, who said such a sight across from downtown would be an eyesore.
Royal Caribbean is the only major cruise company against the stadium because it’s interested in maintaining its favorable rent terms at the port, Kasdin said. He questioned the firm’s commitment to Miami, given that it recently moved some ships to Port Everglades.
Carnival Corp. and Norwegian Cruise Line have stayed out of the stadium controversy because of their own downtown interests, Fox countered.
Carnival’s owner, Micky Arison, also owns the Miami Heat, which is trying to extend its county lease for AmericanAirlines Arena. Norwegian’s top shareholder is Genting Hong Kong, part of the Malaysian-based conglomerate that includes Resorts World Miami, which runs a gambling ship out of PortMiami and hopes to build a casino resort at the site of the old Miami Herald building.