After years of false starts, David Beckham may finally be on the verge of a complicated deal that would allow fora professional soccer stadium in Little Havana next to Marlins Park.
Early this week, in meetings with city, county and School Board officials, representatives of Beckham’s investment group discussed a swift-moving proposal that would give Miami Beckham United or a wholly owned subsidiary permission to build a 30,000-seat stadium on about 10.5 acres of land belonging to the city, county and a few private property owners. Presuming Beckham's group follows through with plans to purchase the private properties, he and his partners would pay the city a “management fee” of $850,000 a year over 60 years.
In exchange for the payments, the city would possibly transfer its land to the Miami-Dade School Board to spare the team from paying property taxes on its stadium and to create partnerships with local schools — a new wrinkle that removes Miami-Dade County as a major partner on the stadium property. School Board members plan to meet Thursday “to discuss exploring collaborative opportunities with public and private parties for the development of athletic and educational facilities.”
On Wednesday, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said he broached the idea of the district as a landlord in September through phone calls, and then sat down with Beckham representatives for the first time Tuesday morning at the Intercontinental in downtown Miami. He said the partnership presents unique opportunities for both the franchise, which can partner with a school system of more than 300,000 students and potential soccer fans, and for the district, which could use the stadium for major events. Carvalho also wants the team to pay to include a magnet school on the stadium site specializing in sports medicine, sports management and other related fields.
“It would be at no cost to taxpayers or to the school board,” said Carvalho, who believes previous stadium deals with the Marlins and Miami Heat failed to benefits the community’s schools and students. “The team is going to come to Miami. They are going to come. The question is will there be a negotiated benefit for the community's kids or not?”
The team is going to come to Miami. They are going to come. The question is will there be a negotiated benefit for the community's kids or not?
School Board Superintendent Alberto Carvalho
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said he is anxious to see the School Board act. The mayor hopes to put an agreement before Miami city commissioners in December, or at the very least present referendum language that would need to be approved by the end of the year so a referendum could be placed on the presidential primary ballot in March. Otherwise, with the mayor adamant that the public get a vote on any stadium deal, the city might have to pay about $2 million to host a stand-alone election.
“We're running against the clock,” Regalado said. “We have to have [referendum] wording by late December.”
Beckham and his team of investors have been pursuing a soccer stadium in Miami for years. Initially they sought a site at PortMiami. When that deal fell through, they chased an ill-fated proposal to fill in Miami’s FEC slip and build a stadium in part of the city’s new Museum Park. That proposal was also defeated, and Beckham’s group ultimately agreed to build on 10.5 acres of mostly public land directly west of Marlins Park.
For months, Regalado and Miami’s city manager have negotiated with Beckham’s team, which recently tapped Tim Leiweke, the president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, to head talks in Miami. The expectation has been that the city would enter into an agreement with the Major League Soccer franchise to sell its land and transfer ownership to the county, which has tax-exempt status. But Miami Beckham United recently began to consider a partnership with the Miami-Dade School Board, which also has tax-exempt status, and can offer partnerships with schools as well.
Regalado said an education component would make a referendum an easier sell to voters in Miami, where stadium deals have been tainted by the closed-door agreement that provided hundreds of millions in subsidies for Marlins Park. Miami Beckham United has repeatedly said it will build the stadium with private funds, but critics have already pounced on the potential property tax break. Regalado said a partnership that would include hosting big district football games and events would only make an agreement more palatable.
Still, the proposal to bring in the School Board could complicate the politics of building the stadium. Regalado’s daughter, Raquel Regalado, sits on the School Board and is running for Miami-Dade mayor against incumbent Carlos Gimenez. Gimenez has reportedly told Beckham’s representatives that he won’t block a deal, even though it would reduce the county, which owns 2.7 acres on the site, to a bit player.
We're running against the clock. We have to have [referendum] wording by late December.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado
“Mayor Gimenez has always supported and will continue to support bringing Major League Soccer to Miami-Dade County,” Michael Hernández, Gimenez's spokesman, said in a statement. “He would be supportive of any arrangement that would result in an MLS franchise playing in our community, but he continues to believe that a stadium should be built with private and not taxpayer dollars.”
Carvalho acknowledged that the politics could get complicated.
“If you are in my shoes, why should you allow the possibility of political intrigue to derail the greater consideration of public benefit?” Carvalho said in a telephone interview. “Is it worth the political trouble? If the public benefits outweigh it, then absolutely.”
School Board members said they had been provided scarce details about a possible deal as of Wednesday afternoon. But Raquel Regalado said the district needs a stadium to host large events such as the Soul Bowl, the annual football game between Miami Jackson and Miami Northwestern, which draws thousands. She said the district considered building a stadium with bond money when voters approved $1.2 billion for capital improvements and technology upgrades, but the needs were too great at existing schools.
“This time around, we’ll actually be able to have a benefit and we’ll actually be able to build a stadium and have a stadium that we, as a board, would never be able to do with public funds,” she said.
The proposed agreement with the city also allows half the team’s annual payment to go toward youth education and athletics, and maintaining soccer facilities within the city. It holds the team responsible for the cost of stadium construction, and requires the team's ownership to invest in capital improvements at least once every decade. And while the team plans to pay for the estimated $200 million stadium with its own money, the agreement contemplates that ownership might seek tax credits, business incentives and tax-exempt financing.
By the numbers
A draft operating agreement before the city of Miami would be a big step toward allowing Miami Beckham United to build a soccer stadium on public land.
Site: 10.5 acres directly west of Marlins Park
Payment: $850,000 per year team will pay city
Term: 60 years with two 20-year team options
Stadium: $200 million, estimated cost to build 30,000-seat stadium