Even as Major League Soccer prepares to officially welcome David Beckham and his plans for a Miami soccer stadium in Overtown, his newest partners have expressed interest in the pros and cons of other sites.
In private conversations since joining the venture last month, brothers Jorge and José Mas, Beckham’s newest partners, have discussed the potential of locations other than the current nine-acre assemblage near the Miami River in Overtown, according to people who have spoken to them.
The discussions may just be the Mas brothers getting up to speed on the best case to make for building a $200 million, 25,000-seat stadium in a neighborhood largely devoid of entertainment offerings and lacking parking garages. The private conversations also may have captured early thinking by new partners who have since dismissed questions about the Overtown location. Or the talk of other sites could be part of a contingency plan if the Overtown site hits legal snags in the local approval process for the stadium itself.
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The Mas brothers joined the Beckham group in December, marking the first time the partnership has included local owners. After meeting with the Mas brothers in early January, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the group discussed the advantages and disadvantages of other sites that had been considered during Beckham’s earlier shopping for stadium locations.
“We went through a whole history of how we came to that site. We went through the pluses and minuses,” Gimenez said in a Jan. 12 interview. “They wanted to know what happened, and what happened with different sites. … What were the ups and downs. What we thought were the positives of that [Overtown] site.”
Asked if he was confident that Beckham’s privately financed stadium would go up on the Overtown site off Northwest Sixth Avenue, Gimenez replied: “I’m more confident we’re going to have a team. But I’m pretty confident it’s going to be right there [in Overtown], too.”
A county official who spoke to the Mas brothers about two weeks ago said Jorge talked about the potential of a stadium next to Marlins Park — which was the Beckham group’s chosen site during much of 2015 before the partners abandoned that effort in favor of Overtown. “Jorge had indicated he liked that Orange Bowl site,” the official said.
Beckham insiders describe the partnership — which includes Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, entertainment mogul Simon Fuller, and Japanese financier Masayoshi Son —as “all in” for Overtown.
Jorge Mas issued a statement Wednesday that said: “We’re excited about creating a world-class fan experience at a purpose-built fútbol stadium on our current site, and we look forward to sharing more details with the community and celebrating the launch of our club soon.”
Though the logistics haven’t been confirmed, the soccer group is planning a Monday launch event to celebrate Major League Soccer’s formal endorsement of playing professional soccer in Miami at the Overtown stadium. People organizing the event say that they’re looking at downtown theaters large enough to handle a crowd expected to approach 1,000, and that Overtown doesn’t have an indoor facility capable of accommodating that many people.
While the celebration is pending, the stadium is far from being construction ready. First, there’s an ongoing legal challenge over Miami-Dade’s pending sale of three acres to the Beckham group. Miami also must approve a string of zoning changes and street closures to allow for construction of the privately owned facility. And neighborhood groups are promising to fight the plans, saying the open-air stadium with virtually no parking facilities will bring too much disruption and traffic to the area.
Bruce Matheson, a wealthy landowner with property in the nearby Spring Garden neighborhood, lost the first round of his legal challenge against the county deal. Miami-Dade used Florida’s economic-development law to negotiate a no-bid deal with Beckham’s lawyers to purchase the land for $9 million, and the sale is slated to close later this year. A trial judge sided with the county, but a Matheson appeal is pending.
Any legal setback on the Overtown front could test the Beckham group’s allegiance to the site, and the county deal gives them several months before they have to put more money down to secure the property. (The group owns outright an adjoining six-acre site bought from private owners in 2016.)
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez pointed to the neighborhood strife in saying he could support a second look at a stadium site next to Marlins Park.
“I would be open to it,” Suarez said in an interview. “I think the current site has some issues that everybody has sort of acknowledged, related to the opposition from some members of the community.”
Jorge Mas is chairman of Miami’s MasTec and José is CEO. The posts atop their family’s utility-work and infrastructure company make the brothers two of the most influential business executives in Miami. Jorge Mas also serves as chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, an advocacy group that helped make him a national leader in the politics of Cuban-U.S. relations. Jorge Mas also took the lead in a recent failed bid to buy the Miami Marlins, losing out to Derek Jeter and partners.
Though they are prominent players in Miami, this is the Mas brothers’ first interaction with Gimenez and aides on the soccer front, since the county negotiated the land deal with Beckham lawyers and lobbyists in early 2015. The mayor said he still expects the transaction to close and for Major League Soccer to call Overtown home.
“I think at the end, they’ll say: ‘Yes, it’s probably the best site,’ ” Gimenez said.