Downtown Miami boat slip now top choice for David Beckham’s MLS stadium

05/19/2014 3:56 PM

05/19/2014 7:31 PM

In a major strategic shift, retired player David Beckham and his investors said Monday they no longer plan to pursue PortMiami land as their top choice for a Major League Soccer stadium.

Instead, the group will pursue a downtown location that is now a deep-water boat slip. Any plans there would require prior approval from city voters.

The decision to move away from the port site, a location that has drawn powerful opposition, came after Beckham’s group met at Miami City Hall with Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

“Our goal has always been to build a great stadium along the waterfront,” John Alschuler, Beckham’s real-estate adviser, said afterward. “We view this as a meaningful step in the right direction.”

Gimenez had proposed the slip site two weeks ago and asked Beckham’s group to quickly determine if filling the water basin and building a stadium would be feasible. It is, Miami Beckham United said Monday, though the stadium might be smaller than originally thought — closer to 20,000 seats than to 25,000.

“I honestly have to say this is Plan A,” Gimenez said outside City Hall. “And now, the port is Plan B.”

Beckham’s group must still work out the details of a potential deal. Stadium agreements are always complex, but this one would be further complicated by the referendum required by city charter and by the fact that both the city and county commissions would have to approve.

Both governments are involved because the city owns the water basin, known as the Florida East Coast Railway slip, and Museum Park north of it, and the county owns the property known as Parcel B behind AmericanAirlines Arena to the south.

As part of a possible agreement, the city would turn over the land on which the stadium would sit to the county. That way, Beckham’s MLS franchise wouldn’t have to pay property taxes on the facility, though the city would require some sort of annual payment in lieu of taxes, possibly to benefit parks, Regalado said. Gimenez said the county would require a rent payment.

Then, in a sort of land swap, the county would turn over Parcel B to the city so that the newly filled slip could connect the parcel to Museum Park.

The result, according to both mayors, is a net increase of 20 percent — a little more than four acres — of park land, between Parcel B and filling the nine-acre slip.

“What I like of the project is that Museum Park will be bigger, and will be more waterfront park,” Regalado said.

The stadium would encroach on about four acres of Museum Park, home to the recently opened Pérez Art Museum Miami and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, which is under construction. It cost the city more than $4 million just to design the park, without counting any construction, and Miami has spent nearly $12 million upgrading the slip.

Still, some downtown regulars say the basin is underutilized and the waterfront lacks public access.

“It’s a piece of unused property,” said business owner Jose Goyanes, a member of the Downtown Development Authority. “What are we going to do — wait another 30 years to see what they do in that slip?”

An early conceptual design of the stadium envisions it next to the basketball arena and to Biscayne Boulevard, with the long side of the field parallel to the street behind an existing water pump station. Such a placement would leave a green corridor along the waterfront and keep most bay views from the museums unobstructed, according to Beckham’s representatives.

The stadium would be shorter than the arena — up to 100 feet, compared to 150 feet, Alschuler said. Like at the port, it’s possible that a second level of seats could be added in the future if the facility is successful.

Early plans suggest the stadium would be smaller than at the port. Though Beckham’s representatives wouldn’t say as much, that could doom any idea of having the University of Miami football team play there; football would require some 40,000 seats, according to earlier estimates.

The port location has drawn sustained criticism from the Miami Seaport Alliance, an organization headed by Royal Caribbean Cruises, whose headquarters are adjacent to the potential site. Several county commissioners had expressed skepticism about putting a stadium next to one of Miami-Dade’s chief economic engines.

Filling in the boat slip has its share of opponents as well, including environmental activists — who say the water basin, part of the Biscayne Bay Aquifer Preserve, is protected by state law — and former city leaders, led by ex-Mayor Manny Diaz, who say Miami should safeguard public access to the bay.

In a letter published Sunday in the Miami Herald, Dalia Lagoa, of the Downtown Neighborhood Alliance questioned the wisdom of building on what is now water. “Most of us are struggling to accept the use of preciously scant waterfront public space to house a soccer stadium, irrespective of how beautiful or interesting its architecture may be,” she wrote.

City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, whose district includes downtown, said Monday that the port remains his favorite location because it doesn’t crowd the waterfront.

“The port is where [the stadium] belongs,” he said. “It’s got the size, it’s got the majesty to it.”

Gimenez, who had sounded excited about the port, said Monday that the location hasn’t been dismissed entirely. When asked why the slip would be a better site, he answered with a long pause.

“It creates a better park,” he ultimately said.

The new location will likely delay the timeline Beckham’s group outlined when the former player exercised his contract option earlier this year to purchase a new franchise at a discount.

The group had hoped to have a stadium plan in place by the summer, but no referendum is likely until the November general election. Beckham’s group would prefer a vote during the August primary, but that would require a question be placed on the ballot next month.

Regalado said Beckham’s group said it will not seek an alternative if the voters don’t agree to a potential deal.

“If they fail the referendum, they will leave,” said Regalado, who, like other elected officials, has said he hopes not to lose Beckham and his international cachet.

MLS requires a new stadium as part of an expansion franchise. A league spokesman told the Herald on Monday that Beckham’s stadium has to be in the city of Miami; Alschuler said MLS leaders have made clear that they expect the facility to be downtown.

Still unclear is how much a stadium at the slip would cost. A county estimate projected that just filling the entire basin would cost about $20 million.

Beckham’s group estimated a port stadium would cost $250 million, to be mostly privately funded by the investors. They also plan to apply for a state subsidy.

Miami Herald staff writers Douglas Hanks and Andres Viglucci contributed to this report.

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