South Florida

David Beckham plans for Little Havana stadium in question

One of the properties David Beckham would need to buy to build his stadium near Marlins Park includes Manuel Freyre’s pink-and-white house.
One of the properties David Beckham would need to buy to build his stadium near Marlins Park includes Manuel Freyre’s pink-and-white house. Christina Veiga

David Beckham may be one of the world’s biggest celebrities, but his star power hasn’t mattered much when it comes to finding a home for a pro soccer stadium in Miami.

On Tuesday, the British footballer’s latest proposal to build next to Marlins Park baseball stadium appeared to be in jeopardy.

Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said a school board vote to approve a partnership with the team has been postponed.

“I think we are out of time,” he said.

Hours later, Miami Beckham United partner Tim Leiweke went on national news to suggest the team was going in a whole new direction. Where, he did not say.

“I think we have found a site,” Leiweke told CNBC Tuesday. “It’s probably different than what people think we’re doing, but we’re going to know in the next several days.”

The sudden upheaval in plans comes just days before a crucial meeting with the Major League Soccer Board of Governors, when Beckham’s team had hoped to present a publicly backed deal to build a $200 million stadium in Little Havana.

Representatives for the team blamed small private property owners for blocking what had seemed the most promising negotiations in the team’s two-year quest to find a home in South Florida.

Neisen Kasdin, a lobbyist representing Beckham, told the Miami Herald on Tuesday that the land owners who have homes, apartments and a business within the proposed stadium footprint have asked for astronomical payments.

“We have been communicating with the property owners in good faith, offering several millions of dollars above market value, but we will not agree to completely unreasonable prices,” he said in a statement.

But as late as Monday, many of the property owners told the Miami Herald they were still waiting for an initial offer from the team.

“Nobody has come to talk to us. It’s something strange,” said Maria Linares, who lives with her husband in a white-and-pink home in the proposed stadium footprint.

The team has said publicly that it is considering a “Plan B” site, but has declined to identify where the parcel is. In the past, an undisclosed site in Overtown has been floated as a possibility.

Carvalho said he believed MBU would pursue a deadline extension of their team option with Major League Soccer but the team did not comment on that. Carvalho also said he didn’t know where the team’s alternative may be, but that it is privately owned.

Even still, the superintendent said the team has agreed to continue to provide some benefits for school kids — like band uniforms and soccer programs — that were a part of negotiations with the school board.

“These are individuals who are extremely interested in Miami as a site for Miami Beckham United,” Carvalho said.

Beckham’s team originally went after land in PortMiami, but Royal Caribbean helped thwart those plans. The team was also unable to convince Miami’s mayor to hand over prime waterfront land on Biscayne Boulevard.

After those deals fell through, MBU in July reluctantly settled on land in Little Havana to build a $200 million soccer stadium next to Marlins Park baseball stadium. Most of the land is owned by the City of Miami, whose leaders agreed to transfer the land to the Miami-Dade School Board in a move that would shelter Beckham’s team from having to pay property taxes.

Talks with the school system and city have gone smoothly. Beckham’s team has promised to pay Miami for its land, and has also agreed to more than a $1 million in perks for the district’s school kids.

With the negotiations dragging on, Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso said the commission is still set to vote on a stadium deal during their Dec. 10 meeting.

“But it’s not looking good right now,” he said.

With those agreements mostly settled, Beckham’s high-power team was left to negotiate with five private property owners. The owners include at least two retirees, a daycare owner, a school teacher and a private company.

Kasdin said the team offered to pay $6 million for three apartment buildings worth $600,000 each. A trustee negotiating for the owners countered with $18 million combined, according to Kasdin. The trustee declined to comment to the Miami Herald, saying he was not authorized to do so.

Manuel Freyre owns a 1930s home with bright pink trim that is wedged between the baseball stadium and busy Northwest 17th Avenue, also called Willy Chirino Way after the famous Cuban singer.

At first, Freyre told a Miami Herald reporter he has no intention of selling. Just like nearby duplex owner Violeta Jimenez, Freyre said he wants to die in his home.

“I don’t want to sell this house. I’ve lived here for 38 years. I am 85 years old. I don’t want to leave,” he said from his doorstep. “Sometimes I sit on the stoop and I sunbathe. That has no price.”

But when pressed, Freyre said he’d sell his home, valued at $178,000, for $1 million. They’d also probably need help moving, as he and his wife are infirm. With the money, his wife, Linares, said the couple would buy another home — but not a big one.

“I cannot clean it on my own,” she said.

MBU said they contacted Linares, who informed the team the couple has no intention of selling.

The thorniest negotiations, according to the team, are with day-care center owner René Díaz .

Candy House day care caters to about 100 infants and toddlers in the shadow of the hulking Marlins Park. Property records show Díaz’s building is worth $367,000. An MBU representative said it appraised for $800,000.

In a statement, the team said: “We offered him $1 million above that valuation and he countered with $15 million and made it clear we had nothing left to discuss until we met that number.”

On Monday, though, Díaz told a Miami Herald reporter that he’s open to continuing talks. He said he started negotiations high — asking for $30 million — fully expecting the team to negotiate it down.

“All negotiations are like that, right? I don’t know why they got so scared,” he said.

Díaz says he has significantly lowered his asking price but declined to give a figure. He wants to make sure he is compensated not just for his building, but the value of his business. Díaz said he’s worried about relocating because his clients may just choose one of the many other day cares in the area.

Originally from Cuba, Díaz said he bought Candy House day care in 1998 so that the mother of his child could continue working in the field she loves. He said he has poured a significant amount of money into maintaining the bright, tidy building, and his weekends are spent cleaning and manicuring the school.

“I have lived for that day care,” he said.

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