As soccer fans continue to wait for David Beckham to announce a stadium deal, one Miami-Dade commissioner floated the idea Monday of using the county’s portion of the arena site for affordable housing instead.
“How long are we going to negotiate for the use of that [county-owned land] before we decide that maybe that ought to be made available for some affordable housing?” Commissioner Xavier Suarez asked Monday during a meeting of the county’s Housing and Social Services committee. “Are we going to wait for these folks forever before we use that property for something more?”
Are they bringing a stadium there? I haven’t heard anything.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson
Suarez’s comments may constitute a high-water mark of public frustration from a Miami-Dade official as Beckham’s local lobbying team tries to reassure leaders that a stadium deal remains within reach. Launched to global fanfare in early 2014, Beckham’s quest for a Major League Soccer stadium has churned through various sites and would-be partners before settling on Miami’s Overtown neighborhood.
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While Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez says he’s ready to negotiate the sale of a three-acre vehicle depot for the stadium complex there, county officials say they haven’t heard from Beckham’s team for months.
“Are they bringing a stadium there?” asked Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, whose district includes the proposed stadium site. “I haven’t heard anything.”
Edmonson’s icy take on the Beckham situation reflects the political fatigue facing his lobbying and media operation should they ultimately reveal a deal. His representatives have sketched out a lobbying blitz to win county support of a land sale and Miami’s approval of the street closures and zoning changes needed to build the 25,000-seat facility.
As Overtown’s county commissioner, Edmonson would hold significant sway on the amount of resistance and horse-trading the Beckham group might face when trying to purchase the county’s three-acre site.
“They would have to get the residents in that area to agree to it,” Edmonson said in an interview. “I’m going to follow the lead of my Overtown residents.”
Are we going to wait for these folks forever before we use that property for something more?
Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez
Miami Beckham United, the placeholder name of the soccer star’s franchise, paid nearly $19 million for six acres of private land in Overtown in March 2016, after its bids to secure stadium sites at PortMiami, Miami’s Museum Park and across from Marlins Park in Little Havana failed. The private land would make up the bulk of the stadium site, with Miami-Dade’s parcel filling in the rest.
And while the political push was well under way by the time the private deal closed — team representatives held a town hall in Overtown about the stadium’s economic benefits a few months earlier — the Beckham organization hasn’t found the investor dollars needed to build a facility expected to cost more than $200 million to develop.
The delays have roiled the official MLS expansion schedule, with Commissioner Don Garber confirming over the weekend that 2018 will see only one team debut instead of two. The second MLS franchise in Los Angeles — where Beckham used to play — will be the league’s only new team next year, Garber told the soccer-news site Fifty Five One. The site said the solo debut would give MLS its first odd-numbered roster of teams since 2014, creating something of a scheduling headache.
There was a time when Miami was expected to join the league in 2018, too, as the 24th team on the MLS roster. But Beckham’s delays rendered that scenario all but impossible. Sports Illustrated reported in November that MLS had scratched Miami for 2018 in favor of a hoped-for opening in 2019, and Miami Beckham United confirmed the new timetable in a statement last month.
“We’re making progress toward our goal of fielding a team in 2019,” the Feb. 28 statement read, “and we appreciate the strong support of our fans as our kick-off draws closer.”
A Beckham spokesman declined to address Suarez’s comments Monday about affordable housing. The remarks came during a broader discussion about Miami’s widening housing gap and the need to contribute county-owned land to projects catering to middle-income buyers.
“All of us here are well aware of the problem,” Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava said at the meeting. “There have been many efforts to try and address it. But they are totally insufficient … We have to be more aggressive.”
The county-owned land at 678 NW Seventh St. that Beckham wants currently houses low-slung buildings run by the Water and Sewer Department, which uses it mainly for vehicle storage. It sits next to the Tuscan Place towers, a 199-unit apartment tower that caters to low-income residents.
Edmonson, the Overtown commissioner, said she wasn’t ready to advocate for a future use of the planned stadium site, which Beckham’s team has pitched as an economic boon for the neighborhood.
“I like the sound of affordable housing,” she said. “However, I also like the sound of bringing jobs to that area.”