Spare Miami from too much of a good thing

05/24/2014 7:00 PM

05/24/2014 8:08 PM

Soccer is known as the “beautiful game,” but can it turn ugly with politics? Time will tell.

Facing insurmountable obstacles to the original PortMiami location, international celebrity and investor, David Beckham, is moving forward to promote his plans to build a soccer stadium on an unused boat slip owned by the city of Miami. It lies next to Museum Park near the AmericanAirlines Arena (AAA).

Should we let him?

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado says he will ask voters to decide in a referendum, as will Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. But the questions may be different.

The first could be about a land swap. City of Miami voters may be asked whether they want to exchange their boat slip off Biscayne Boulevard for county-owned Parcel B, which is a piece of land hidden behind the AAA. The county could then present the actual soccer stadium question.

Regalado insists the city needs more time to consider the best option; the issue will not be on the August ballot. Regardless, local officials should be particularly vigilant of the language they use on the ballot to describe the terms of the deal. The city of Miami Beach can tell them about it.

In 2011, city of Miami Beach officials elected to renovate the Miami Beach Convention Center and included the addition of a sorely lacking hotel, retail and public use development to be placed on 52 acres of public land that would be leased to a private developer.

Miami Beach has a charter requirement that demands voter approval of lease agreements of 10 years or more on some properties surrounding the convention center. When the issue was put on the ballot, however, the final terms of the deal had yet to be negotiated or, at least, disclosed. Not surprisingly, opponents of the agreement filed a lawsuit.

In Let Miami Beach Decide, a Florida Political Committee v. City of Miami Beach, plaintiffs argued that voters were unable to fully understand the breadth and scope of the referendum because they did not have the “material terms necessary,” such as rent payment amounts and other financial details, in order to make a well-informed decision. The Third District Court of Appeal agreed with the plaintiffs, and the lease approval was ordered off the November 2012 ballot.

After that experience, it is unlikely that Miami or Miami-Dade County government officials will make the same mistake, but they are coming up against a deadline that even Beckham may not be able to bend: Can all the studies, drawings and negotiations be completed in time to provide accurate information to be included on both ballots?

Perhaps the better question to place on the ballot is, Will residents will be getting the best value for their investment based on previous ones haven’t produced great returns for taxpayers?

The public is, with good reason, wary of new stadium deals not only because of the travesty of the Marlins stadium agreement but also because Miami Heat owner Micky Arison has barely paid anything to the county in 14 years, despite the fact that the team has earned many millions.

Stadiums just aren’t good deals for taxpayers, no matter how they’re described. Rarely are they depicted as real-estate deals, but often that’s what they are. Beckham wants what Arison got: an agreement to lease public land from the county and not have to pay real-estate taxes. We should all wish for the same.

Beckham is now focused on the boat slip off Biscayne Boulevard, a narrow but beautiful sliver of bayfront property, the last to be seen from the street. It is next to the AAA and the Pérez and Frost museums, which, along with the Arsht Center, are all renewing life in downtown. For that we can also credit the investment made by private developers in luxury condominiums and new retail and office buildings that are taking Miami to the next level.

But too much of a good thing in one area can be just that — too much. It is a lot for a city to absorb in a short period of time when there isn’t any accompanying infrastructure.

Everyone is excited that David Beckham is in love with Miami; we are in love with it, too. The boat slip plays a nice role alongside the hustle and bustle of the cultural centers, arena and development of all sorts. Leave it alone so we can be reminded of what made Beckham fall in love with Miami in the first place.

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