David Beckham, who was in Miami over the weekend campaigning for a Major League Soccer stadium, may have to make return trips now that a new Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald poll shows Miami-Dade County voters are evenly divided over the proposal.
By 45-43 percent, Miami-Dade voters said they were against the retired English footballer’s idea to build a 20,000-seat stadium on the downtown waterfront, the wide-ranging survey by Bendixen & Amandi International shows. That is essentially a tie, given the poll’s error margin of 4.3 percentage points.
The poll also asked respondents about other sports deals and about the county mayor’s administration.
Young voters are more likely than older ones to favor turning over the city of Miami’s deep-water Florida East Coast Railway boat slip and a portion of Museum Park to Beckham and his investors, with 54 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 backing the site, compared to 60 percent of voters 65 or older who say the opposite.
It’s older voters who are more likely to cast ballots, especially in midterm elections. Miami Beckham United is aiming to put a potential stadium deal before city voters in November’s election.
“These are numbers that should be a little bit troubling if you’re part of the Beckham group,” said Fernand Amandi, who conducted the poll of 400 registered voters for the newspapers last week.
Among those voters was Rebecca Kline, a 69-year-old retiree from Miami’s Upper Eastside, who said she is fine with having an MLS team and stadium — just not downtown.
“A great deal of effort was put into making that Museum Park, and making it visible from Biscayne Boulevard,” she said. “To put a soccer stadium where it would block probably 75 percent of that view would turn that park into what it was before: another Bicentennial Park that you didn’t know was there.”
A spokesman for Beckham’s group said the poll should have noted that the investors plan to pay for stadium construction mostly with private funds, and that they would also landscape newly filled land along the waterfront and connect it to a county-owned tract known as Parcel B that has long been promised as a park.
“Our plan will create a stadium and park that is compatible with Museum Park, protects public access to the waterfront, and further activates and expands Museum Park by 20 percent,” publicist Tadd Schwartz said in a statement. “We look forward to discussing our vision with the public over the coming months.”
Similarly, voters were split over a plan for the county to pay the Miami Dolphins for bringing major sporting events like the Super Bowl to Sun Life Stadium in exchange for team owner Stephen Ross privately financing a $400 million upgrade to the stadium.
Without an agreement yet on how much Miami-Dade would pay the Dolphins per event, supporters and opponents of the idea tied at 46 percent, according to the poll. The demographic divide was the opposite than with soccer, with 49 percent of Hispanics against the idea and 54 percent of non-Hispanic whites in favor.
In the only sports-related poll question for which financial details were available — regarding the county’s latest agreement with the Miami Heat — respondents opposed the deal by a wider margin.
Last week, Miami-Dade County commissioners voted 10-2 to extend the basketball team’s stay at AmericanAirlines Arena for an additional five years, through 2035, and increase the annual county subsidy to the Heat to $8.5 million from $6.4 million beginning in 2031. In return, the Heat will immediately begin to pay the county parks department $1 million a year.
The poll shows that voters — even when asked in the same week that the Heat began playing in the NBA Finals — are against the deal by 53-38 percent.
The Heat’s lobbyist, attorney Jorge Luis Lopez, called the poll question unfair because it did not spell out the team’s contention that, without a contract extension, it would consider relocating.
“We’ve seen in our own internal [polls], when you tell a more complete story, the community support keeping the Heat,” he said. Lopez declined to share his polling data.
County Mayor Carlos Gimenez appears more popular than the sports deals, all three of which he has either suggested or negotiated.
Fifty-three percent of voters called his tenure excellent or good, with 30 percent qualifying it as mediocre or poor. As has become typical during his administration, Gimenez, a Cuban-American Republican in a nonpartisan post, fared best among Hispanics and Republicans.
“People think I’m doing a good job — it doesn’t mean they agree with everything I do,” Gimenez said. “I don’t think they think I do things out of ill will but out of what I think is in the best interest of the county.”
But the poll revealed a potential weak spot for Gimenez: a perception that lobbyists and special interests have exerted too much influence in high-profile negotiations with the pro sports franchises and major contractors.
Only 27 percent of voters said Gimenez and his administration negotiated in the best interests of the county, compared to 55 percent who said the special interests are too strong. That negative perception included a majority of voters from all political party affiliations and ethnic backgrounds.
“What it suggests to me is that the mayor is potentially very vulnerable to a line of attack or a line of messaging that he’s too deep in the pocket of lobbyists,” pollster Amandi said.
Gimenez conceded that “there is truth” to lobbyists swarming County Hall when big contracts are in play — he used baggage-wrapping at Miami International Airport as an example — but he also said that the lobbyists overplay their importance to stay in business.
“In every decision I make, there’s a lobbyist involved on both sides,” said the mayor, who doesn’t face reelection until 2016. “But a lobbyist has no more influence on me than anybody else.”
One poll respondent argued that it’s the County Commission that has more to worry about than Gimenez when it comes to public backlash.
“I actually think he has done a good job,” said William Olson, a 70-year-old Democrat from Homestead. “It’s the County Commission that’s the problem. That’s where there’s too much lobbyist influence.”