David Beckham partners Jorge and Jose Mas met with Miami-Dade’s mayor and parks chiefs on Tuesday as their Major League Soccer franchise pursues a deal to bring a training facility and a youth “academy” to a county park.
Participants said the discussions were focused on Amelia Earhart Park outside Hialeah, a county facility with more than 500 acres and existing soccer fields. The Beckham group wants at least one building to house locker rooms and offices for a training facility for the MLS team that would play in a Miami stadium, and more fields to run youth leagues under the pro team’s brand.
“We want to have a dozen fields. We want to attract soccer here, and have major tournaments,” Jorge Mas said after a meeting with Mayor Carlos Gimenez and aides Tuesday afternoon. “National and international tournaments.. There are no [soccer] fields in Miami. You have a field here, a field there, but no facililty.”
The closed-door talks haven’t revealed many details about how an MLS training facility on a county park would work, or how much of it might be open to the public. Myriam Marquez, the Gimenez communications chief who attended the meeting, said the mayor won assurances the Beckham group would run leagues for boys and girls, as well as keep the team facility from hampering public use of the park.
The 90-minute meeting in the mayor’s 29th floor office in County Hall captures the key role Gimenez and Miami-Dade still play for a soccer group that recently won a city referendum to build a stadium, mall and office complex on a city golf course.
Gimenez is leading the county talks with the Mas brothers while one of his sons, Carlos J. Gimenez, works as a lobbyist on the stadium project. The younger Gimenez is registered as a lobbyist in the city of Miami. The county mayor has declined to recuse himself from the soccer talks by describing the county matters as separate from his son’s work for the Mas brothers.
“I do not need to recuse myself because I have no family member lobbying the County for this project,” Gimenez said in a recent statement. “My son C.J. represents the Beckham-Mas group on soccer stadium issues involving the City of Miami, not Miami-Dade County.”
Along with the delicate task of trying to take over county park land for a for-profit pro sports team, the Beckham group also has three acres of county property under contract in Overtown.
That’s where the partnership had planned to build its 25,000-seat stadium before the Mas brothers joined as Beckham’s first Miami-based investors and insisted on dropping that cramped location for an expansive site at Miami’s Melreese golf course.
In November, voters approved no-bid negotiations for Miami with the Beckham group to build the stadium and one of the city’s largest retail and commercial centers.
Mas said Tuesday he still wants to close on the $9 million purchase of the Overtown site from Miami-Dade, a deal that has been suspended by a court challenge that is nearing an end.
For the Beckham group to buy the land now, it would almost certainly need to craft a new deal with Miami-Dade, since the existing one requires a soccer stadium be built on the property.
Gimenez has also led talks between the Beckham group and county lawyers over whether the soccer partnership could delay down payments on the property while Miami-Dade fends off a court challenge to the no-bid sale from stadium opponent Bruce Matheson. Matheson lost the suit, and is awaiting a final decision from the Florida Supreme Court on whether to hear the case.
The continued interest by Mas in the Overtown parcel, which sits next to six acres of private land the partnership already owns, could mean the MasTec chairman is interested in a far larger project with Miami-Dade. Before shifting to Melreese in the spring, Mas was in talks with Gimenez about the potential redevelopment of Overtown’s Culmer Gardens housing complex. Miami-Dade is preparing the process of seeking bids for that project from developers.
“I told the mayor and everyone that I want to do something with that acreage that’s special for that community,” Mas said. “Something that’s good for Overtown, because I promised them. And be part of something special there.”
Asked if he was interested in bidding on Culmer, which sits across the street from the Beckham holdings, Mas replied: “I’ve offered my help in any way. Because I know they’re about to start doing things with Culmer.”
The Mas brothers came to Gimenez’s office with the soccer group’s first big hire: general manager Paul McDonough. They were joined by Gimenez and his two administrators who oversee parks: Parks Director Maria Nardi and Michael Spring, a top deputy who supervises recreational and cultural departments.
Miami-Dade’s charter limits commercial activities and construction at county parks, so the Beckham bid to create a facility for its MLS team to Amelia Earhart promises to be a complicated political lift for Gimenez.
In pitching the plan for MLS taking part of a public park, Mas touted the prospect of a soccer facility enjoyed by the public.
“We want to know how to activate it for the community,” Mas said. “How do we have Friday-night coaching clinics? How do we do development for the little kids? That’s what it’s all about. .... We have elite athletes in Dade County. How do we give them the option of being able to choose the path of soccer?”
Many MLS teams use their academies to recruit star youth players into the league system, but they also run for-profit clinics for everyday soccer players under the squad’s brand.