David Beckham’s top negotiator on Thursday promised a 25,000-seat, partially enclosed stadium that would boost Overtown’s economy, rely on mass transit and walking fans instead of hulking parking garages, and use professional soccer to help keep youth engaged in sports rather than in trouble.
“Soccer, as the world’s most popular sport, is a tremendous opportunity to have an impact on the kids and the youth of this community,” said Tim Leiweke, the veteran sports and entertainment executive heading up Beckham’s stadium push in Miami. “We want to make sure we allow any kid in this community who wants to play soccer an opportunity to do that.”
His pitch came at a town hall meeting a few blocks from Beckham’s proposed stadium site. It drew some soccer fans but also a string of skeptical questions from residents of Overtown, one of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods, and stern opposition from people living in Spring Garden, the more affluent neighborhood next door.
“We have seen a lot of smokescreen that has come through this community in the name of progress,” said Pastor William Williams, who has a church, beauty salon and barber shop in Overtown. “We hope this is not another one of those.”
The Beckham group plans to purchase about nine acres over two blocks in southwest Overtown at the corner of Northwest Sixth Avenue and Northwest Eighth Street. It would then privately finance construction of a stadium that Leiweke said would hold 25,000 seats and be covered by a partial roof to keep out the rain and provide shade. About a third of the site is land owned by Miami-Dade County, which would be purchased without a bidding process under an economic-development law requiring both market price and a package of hiring requirements.
“Your tax dollars should go to schools, education, transportation and safety,” Leiweke said, after saying the team was not seeking from the taxing district known as the Overtown Community Redevelopment Agency. “We will build it with workers and contractors and businesses that are part of this community.”
For the town hall, he presented a bird’s-eye view of a stadium on the Overtown site, but said the rendering was of a design created for the group’s prior site next to Marlins Park. The image showed a canopy covering the stadium’s seats but the field left open to the elements -- similar to the partial roof being built by the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium.
Audrey Edmonson, the county commissioner whose district includes Overtown, presided over the meeting and said she was not ready to endorse Beckham’s proposal. “I want Major League Soccer in my district,” she said. “But I want to see what these plans are going to look like.” Leiweke said he expected to have a stadium rendering to share within two months.
City officials were not invited to participate in the county-organized session. Miami must approve zoning changes and close a one-block stretch of Seventh Street to accommodate Beckham’s stadium plan — a process that will involve strings of hearings and public meetings.
So far, the Beckham group so far has not divulged any plans for parking garages around the stadium, which Leiweke positioned as a positive for Overtown. “What we’re not going to do at the end of the day is take your neighborhood and build a bunch of concrete structures that are used 30 days a year,” he said. With the Culmer Metrorail station a few blocks away and nearly 7,000 parking spaces within a half-mile radius, Leiweke said the stadium won’t need garages.
Residents of Spring Garden, which sits across the Seybold Canal from the stadium site, presented the most emphatic front against the stadium. The first jab came gently from 9-year-old Sarah Ortiz. “I don’t want the stadium because I already have people speeding by my house,” she said. “Soccer will only make it worse.”
When Spring Garden resident Jo Catharine Winstead began her remarks, she looked at Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez seated before her at the head table and asked: “Would you want that stadium in your backyard?” Gimenez, who lives miles away in the Coral Gables area, replied: “I don’t know. I may.” Winstead replied: “Then why don’t we build it there.”