Miami has watched three Major League Soccer seasons come and go since David Beckham announced his bid to bring a team to the city, but the group gathered at a Miami hotel earlier this year confidently mapped out a timetable for changing that.
With Beckham’s partners in talks with investor groups since the fall, the celebrity athlete’s Miami team was ready to talk logistics on going public. The squad of lobbyists, lawyers and public-relations executives discussed when to fly in Beckham to announce that they had raised the money needed to finally start building a 25,000-seat stadium in Overtown.
“We were actually talking about a date,” said one participant. “We kind of penciled it in.”
Their game plan: Reveal the partners who ended up signing on with Beckham at a press conference slated for Monday, right after MLS wrapped up its opening weekend.
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Now it looks like Monday, March 6, 2017, will pass as another missed milestone in Beckham’s extended quest for an MLS soccer stadium in Miami. Barring a last-minute breakthrough, Beckham’s Miami representatives don’t expect any news in the coming days.
When I last called their attorney (a couple of months ago) he told me they were still looking for a financial partner and would be back to us when they were set to go. Nothing since then.
Leland Salomon, Miami-Dade’s top soccer negotiator, in a Nov. 4 email.
But they also insist that an agreement could be announced within a few weeks, with two competing sets of investors still in talks to help fund Beckham’s $150 million stadium a few blocks north of the Miami River.
Publicly, Miami Beckham United — the placeholder name for what’s essentially a negotiating team right now, backed by Beckham and partners Marcelo Claure (CEO of Sprint) and Simon Fuller (Beckham’s agent and a creator of “American Idol”) — has stuck to an optimistic line so familiar it’s become a punchline on Twitter.
“Miami Beckham United is 100 percent committed to Miami,” Schwartz Media, Beckham’s local publicist, said in a statement on Twitter on Tuesday. “We’re making progress toward our goal of fielding a team in 2019, and we appreciate the strong support of our fans as our kick-off draws closer.”
This account, based on public records and interviews with Beckham insiders and people who have spoken to them, extends a familiar pattern for Miami’s long-suffering MLS fans: Insistence from Beckham United that a deal continues to be within grasp, amid public signs of continued struggle.
While the Beckham group already paid $19 million for six acres of private land at the stadium site, it still needs three acres from a county-owned truck depot next door. But despite not having a deal in hand with Miami-Dade, Beckham’s team has made no move to restart the county talks that were active in the spring of 2016.
Not everything you want to do gets done.
Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber
“I have not heard a word,” Leland Salomon, the county economic-development director charged with negotiating the deal, wrote Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s office in a Nov. 4 email. “When I last called their attorney (a couple of months ago) he told me they were still looking for a financial partner and would be back to us when they were set to go. Nothing since then.”
Overtown is the fourth location sought by Beckham, after failed bids at PortMiami, Miami’s waterfront Museum Park, and a site next to Marlins Park in Little Havana. Beckham has offered to pay market rate for the county land needed for the privately financed stadium, and members of his negotiation team say they’re confident enough of Miami-Dade’s support that they expect to close a deal quickly once they secure investor backing.
During the strategy session at the Epic hotel, the timetable included a Beckham announcement on Monday and then a last-minute appearance before the County Commission on Tuesday to jump start the land talks. Shortly after, Beckham’s group planned an appearance before the Miami City Commission to discuss the street closures and zoning changes needed to build the stadium.
Despite the wealth of Beckham and his partners, the stadium plan has hinged on dollars from other investors funding the bulk of the construction and development costs. Two suitors are known to have walked away since Beckham announced his stadium quest at a Miami press conference on Feb. 5, 2014 with Gimenez and MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
The Middle Eastern nation of Qatar backed out over how much control its entertainment arm could exercise on the franchise, according to sources on both sides of the deal. Wesley Edens, a top executive behind the Brightline railway, began talks in 2016 with the Beckham group but the negotiations fizzled when Edens wanted to move the site closer to the company’s planned train depot in downtown Miami.
In November, Beckham’s Miami team arranged a private meeting with Gimenez and what the mayor described as more than a dozen would-be investors in the stadium effort. Held in the Miami office of Beckham’s lobbying firm, Akerman, the group included Florida International University benefactor Steven Green, according to a source who was there. The participation of the wealthy former ambassador, whose $20 million gift put his name on FIU’s foreign-affairs school in 2015, wasn’t reported at the time.
Green, who represented the U.S. in Singapore under President Bill Clinton and once ran the Samsonite luggage company, did not respond to an email requesting comment Friday. Beckham representatives declined to identify the investors in talks with the stadium group. Gimenez also declined to reveal the identity of the investors he met in November.
If the November meeting with Gimenez hinted at momentum, the weeks that followed brought more discouraging news from the soccer front. Don Garber, MLS’s commissioner, told reporters on Dec. 15 that Beckham “needs to understand” that “it’s time for us to reach a conclusion” in Miami.
“Not everything you want to do gets done,” Garber said on the conference call dedicated to the league’s expansion plans. “Sometimes you have to take a step back, and if you can’t get it done, you move on.”