In granting David Beckham and partners a no-bid deal to pay $9 million for three acres of government land for a soccer stadium, Miami-Dade County gave the venture “a secret discount from the taxpayers” by avoiding the chance for better offers, lawyers fighting the proposed Overtown complex said in court papers filed late Monday.
Bruce Matheson, a wealthy activist who helped drive professional tennis out of Key Biscayne, is suing Miami-Dade to block Beckham’s proposed 25,000-seat stadium on nine acres of land in western Overtown and close to the Spring Garden neighborhood. Matheson owns property in Spring Garden, and is a leader in the opposition effort hoping to derail Beckham and partners’ proposal for a privately financed stadium on the cluster of private and public land.
In 2017, Miami-Dade commissioners agreed to sell the Beckham partnership the three-acre county truck depot for $9 million without seeking other offers, citing the state’s economic-development law to justify the no-bid arrangement. A judge endorsed the deal in an October ruling, but Matheson appealed.
His lawyers this week laid out their arguments in court papers filed with the Third District Court of Appeal. It was a 50-page reminder of the obstacles awaiting the Beckham group just weeks after a triumphant celebration of Major League Soccer awarding the partnership — including new investors Jorge and José Mas — an expansion franchise for Miami.
There “is no reason to allow collusive, corrupt, or uncompetitive sales in the name of ‘economic development,’ ” Matheson attorney Richard Ovelmen, of Carlton Fields in Miami, wrote in the brief. Of Beckham and partners he wrote: “They should have paid a premium for this property rather than insisted on a secret discount from the taxpayers.”
Miami-Dade based the $9 million sales price in 2017 on two appraisals performed in late 2015. Miami-Dade agreed to a sales price of about $74 a square foot for the stadium property — roughly the value of the higher appraisal from December 2015. The Matheson appeal noted that one of the nearby properties used in the 2015 appraisal to determine the value of the Beckham land in 2017 had since soared in value, selling for $142 a square foot in 2016.
Dawn Soper, the county’s real estate manager, made a similar observation in an internal email to colleagues about the pending transaction in March 2016. “Perhaps speculation of the soccer stadium [is] driving up prices,” Soper wrote in the email obtained by the Miami Herald, “but regardless, perhaps taking another look at the $$ on the deal?”
Miami-Dade did not adjust its negotiated price for Beckham’s group, which has until June to close on the county land purchase.
Matheson helped fund a court fight protecting county rules that barred the Miami Open tennis tournament from expanding at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne — rules that prompted the tournament last year to announce its move to Miami Gardens. Matheson offered to pay more for the Beckham site during the commission discussion on the deal last summer. Miami-Dade has used the state’s economic-development law to negotiate other exclusive purchases, including a parcel slated for development by the American Dream Miami mega-mall in Northwest Miami-Dade.
The county requires developers in exclusive negotiations to pay market rate for government property and to agree to a package of hiring requirements and other benefits to local businesses and residents. The Beckham group agreed to create 50 permanent jobs at its stadium in exchange for the no-bid purchase.
“The sale of underutilized County property to the Beckham group was a transparent process based on solid legal grounds that was approved by the county commission and will benefit Miami-Dade taxpayers,” said Michael Hernández, communications director for Miami-Dade and senior advisor to Mayor Carlos Gimenez. He said Matheson may be frustrated because his “true intentions” are “to oppose anything that benefits the community at the expense of his personal interests.”