David Beckham wants a “world-class stadium” next to Marlins Park, formally abandoning past reservations about the area and launching the latest chapter in Major League Soccer’s quest to bring a franchise to the city.
In a letter to Mayor Tomás Regalado on Wednesday, Beckham and partners Marcelo Claure and Simon Fuller embraced the location next to Marlins Park, which Fuller once described as “spiritually tainted” by the Marlins’ 2009 stadium-financing deal. Beckham’s group pledged to build their stadium with private dollars, but hope Miami can provide it the land.
“We have done a considerable amount of work to understand the requirements of the Site and its potential as the home of our Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise,” the trio wrote in the letter. “While there is still work to be done, including completing the land assembly, we firmly believe that we can build a world-class stadium at the Site.”
The letter ratified what was made official at a press conference Friday, when Regalado and a Claure aide stood together and announced the Beckham group wanted a soccer stadium next to Marlins Park in Little Havana. Regalado plans to ask the City Commission on Thursday for a green light to start talks, and Beckham’s group says it has 90 days to exercise its option to purchase a team franchise from the soccer league. Regalado called for a referendum last week.
Acquiring the stadium site west of Marlins Park promises to be challenging. While Miami owns a large chunk of the real estate, the site also has privately owned apartment buildings filled with longtime residents. Regalado said Beckham’s group promised to pay for acquiring the land, but it’s not known how much that might cost or how long it would take. Miami could purchase the land, or try to seize it through eminent domain.
Eighteen months have passed since Beckham flew to Miami to publicly launch his stadium quest, kicking off a fruitless hunt for publicly owned waterfront land. Cruise interests blocked his designs on PortMiami, and Regalado ended up helping foil a back-up plan to fill an old cruiseship slip next to Museum Park.
Though the original Marlins Park plan called for a soccer stadium to go next door, Beckham’s group resisted the site in favor of locations closer to the city’s booming downtown. With Beckham now onboard with Little Havana, Regalado said he doesn’t predict political resistance to the effort.
“People always thought a soccer stadium would be built next to Marlins Park. It’s a very different situation than the slip. The slip was too complicated,” Regalado said. “I don’t see this conversation going the same direction.”
The public shift to Marlins Park began in earnest two months ago, when the University of Miami hosted talks about joining Beckham to bring a joint soccer-and-football stadium to the area. But the UM dialogue appears to have stalled, and Wednesday’s letter described a “soccer specific stadium in the site adjacent to Marlins Park.”
The language was noteworthy in that Beckham aides and elected leaders tend to refer to the area as the “former Orange Bowl site” rather than mentioning Marlins Park by name. Miami demolished the iconic stadium to make way for a baseball park, sending UM’s football squad to play at Sun Life in Miami Gardens.
Beckham also appears to be seeking county ownership of the stadium, which would spare the team from paying property taxes. The letter asks for city talks “in cooperation with Miami-Dade County,” and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez was sent a copy of the correspondence.
Regalado’s daughter, school-board member Raquel Regalado, is running against Gimenez in the 2016 mayoral race. In a statement, Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández said the county mayor supports the Marlins Park site and omitted Miami’s mayor in describing the next steps. “Ultimately, the City Manager negotiates on behalf of the City and the City Commission will have the final say on the issue,” Hernández said.
Commissioners will get their first chance to weigh in Thursday. Already, one key official says he is frustrated by the process.
Commissioner Frank Carollo, whose district includes the city-owned land where Beckham's team is now looking to build a stadium, says he's concerned that the project will displace residents. More disconcerting, he says, is that those residents are now learning through the media — not the city — that they might have to find a new home.
“I think it's unfair,” said Carollo. “It's not the right way to start the conversation.”
Carollo isn't against a Beckham stadium. A year ago, he proposed the vote in which the Miami Commission endorsed Beckham's efforts to bring professional soccer to Miami. But his complaints inject tensions into a process that hasn't even begun yet.
City Manager Daniel Alfonso stressed that his administration is sensitive to the impact the project would have on displaced residents.
“It’s not like we’re going to kick these people out to the curb,” he said. “We know they’re renting. We’ll work to try and relocate them.”
No timetable for the talks were released Wednesday. The deadline for Beckham to exercise his option for an MLS franchise has been extended multiple times during his extended pursuit of a Miami team.
Wednesday’s letter followed an impromptu Regalado press conference Friday announcing the pending stadium talks. It was an event that followed a video conference with Claure, when the Sprint CEO pledged to pursue a stadium next to Marlins Park. It was a definitive declaration that seemed to catch city officials, and even some Beckham insiders, by surprise.
Beckham’s organization issued a statement Friday hours after the Regalado press conference that stated other sites were still possible for a stadium But that hedging was not present in Wednesday’s communications. Tadd Schwartz, whose Miami public-relations firm represents Beckham’s soccer effort, issued a statement that read:
“David, Simon and Marcelo have officially notified Mayor Regalado and the City of Miami of their intent to develop a world-class soccer stadium on the former Orange Bowl site in Little Havana. Miami Beckham United looks forward to entering into formal discussions with the City and, ultimately, Miami-Dade County en route to launching an MLS club in Miami within the coming years. Exact timing and important details will be agreed upon shortly, but two things are for certain: the soccer stadium will be privately funded without taxpayer dollars, and the finished product will be something that makes the South Florida community proud.”