Negotiations to build a professional soccer stadium across from Marlins Park can officially commence, after city of Miami commissioners voted Thursday to authorize talks between city officials and Miami Beckham United.
Commissioners unanimously endorsed discussions to build a privately funded stadium on a site in Little Havana comprised mostly of city land. The vote paves the way for administrators to delve into details about what will be built, how the city will be compensated for its property, and whether surrounding commercial and residential properties will have to be purchased to compile enough land to build a professional soccer stadium.
It also gives David Beckham’s team some momentum heading into next week, when they’re expected to meet with Major League Soccer’s board of governors during the league’s all-star week in Denver. According to Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and a Beckham United spokesman, Beckham’s option to purchase an MLS franchise is expiring within three months and the board of governors wants to speak about efforts to build a stadium in Miami.
“They had an ultimatum from MLS that they have to exercise their option to buy the team and to do it they just need some kind of recognition that they’re talking to an entity [the city] that does want to talk to them about the possibility of building the stadium,” Regalado said.
For Beckham’s team, stadium plans are progressing quickly after months of silence. They have been talking about bringing professional soccer to Miami for at least 18 months, but there had been little movement since last summer, when a proposal to build on PortMiami fell apart and the mayor’s administration killed discussions to build a bayfront stadium on city land.
Talks resumed two months ago, focusing on the former Orange Bowl site. On Friday, Beckham partner Marcelo Claure expressed specific interest in the land, which the group had previously resisted. Beckham, Claure and partner Simon Fuller put their intentions in writing Wednesday, embracing the site and setting the stage for Thursday’s vote.
“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,” they wrote.
Negotiations promise to be complicated. For one, it’s still unclear whether the University of Miami, which has expressed interest in partnering with Beckham on the stadium, will be involved. Beckham’s team has called the venue a “soccer-specific stadium.” But Regalado and Commissioner Frank Carollo met with university trustee Manny Kadre in the mayor’s office after Thursday’s vote, and said he confirmed that UM remains interested in a partnership for the Hurricanes football team to play there.
There’s also a number of additional unanswered questions, including how the city will negotiate the use — or new ownership — of its land between Northwest 16th and 17th avenues, whether Beckham’s group will pay taxes on the site, and how much private land, if any, will need to be acquired by Miami Beckham United to build the stadium. Previously, it was expected that building across from Marlins Park would require moving 17th Avenue, but Beckham’s team believes that’s no longer necessary.
Those questions were pondered heavily Thursday by the Miami Commission, in particular by Carollo, who was angered when residents and business owners in his district learned last week through the media that they might be evicted to make way for a soccer stadium. Carollo nearly stalled the soccer vote before giving way after the commission agreed to keep residents apprised of negotiations and promised to include him in those talks.
Carollo said if the commission was sending a message to Beckham with their vote, then they ought to address their residents as well.
“I want to make sure we also send a message to those residents. They’re equal,” he said. “If the stadium is actually going to be built there, there should be consensus among all.”
Miami’s administration promised to update commissioners on negotiations in September, when they return from an August break. Regalado committed to working with Carollo, but joked that they can’t drag their feet much longer.
“We need to move fast on these talks,” he said, “because you and I are term-limited in 2017.”
The commission’s soccer vote was just one issue on a packed agenda. Also Thursday:
- Commissioners approved spending $8 million on a Tri-Rail commuter train connection in downtown Miami. They’ll vote Monday as the board of the Overtown community redevelopment agency on another $17 million for the project.
- Language allowing for billboard towers in the Overtown area was repealed by a 3-1 vote, with Commissioner Keon Hardemon dissenting. It’s unclear whether the vote will kill a project in the works by developer Michael Simkins to build a media tower in Park West, which has already received some approvals from the Overtown CRA. “We are disappointed by the commission’s action but expect the city to comply with the law and respect our rights by honoring the sign permit applications and media tower approval by the CRA, and processing the sign applications in good faith,” Simkins said in a statement.
- Commissioners waived a competitive bid requirement for close to $500,000 in anti-poverty grants issued by Hardemon’s office. Some $260,000 will go to an organization on which Billy Hardemon, the commissioner’s uncle and 2013 campaign consultant, is a volunteer board chairman.
- Commissioners dropped a lawsuit against the Homeless Trust over $100,000 in funding for a homeless program at Camillus House.
- A city property-tax rate cap was set for 2016 at $833.51 per $100,000 of a property’s taxable value, a slight drop from the current year.