David Beckham appears on track for a milestone in his bid to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Miami. Next month, he’s likely to win county approval to buy a $9 million parcel in Overtown needed to complete a stadium site.
But the terms of the pending county deal offer a reminder that when it comes to Beckham and Miami, something can always go wrong.
A summary of the would-be contract shows Beckham’s investors can pay Miami-Dade less than $500,000 this year to secure the land, then walk away if there’s yet another problem in the soccer star’s three-year quest to build a stadium.
The contract also gives Miami Beckham United 11 months after the County Commission approves the land deal before the team has to pay more than $1 million toward the $9 million purchase.
Those contingencies lower the financial risk for Beckham and his investors as they pursue zoning approval from Miami for a stadium that faces opposition from some neighbors. And while team representatives insist they’re more optimistic than ever about Beckham’s chances, the soccer star’s top negotiator this week emphasized the frustrations involved in finding a stadium site in Miami.
“This has been a difficult, hard process,” Tim Leiweke, Beckham partner and a veteran stadium executive, told an Overtown town hall Wednesday night. “I’ve done 19 of these. I’ve never had a more difficult process than this.”
When Beckham first launched his Miami venture in early 2014, Major League Soccer’s approval was a given. A decade ago, Leiweke had helped negotiate Beckham a future option to buy an expansion franchise for $25 million in exchange for joining the low-profile league as a player in Los Angeles.
But as Beckham saw one Miami site after another fall away — he had tried for PortMiami, downtown Miami and land next to Marlins Park — his MLS discount seemed less secure. The league now sells expansion franchises for about $150 million, and cities like Tampa are trying to jump ahead of Miami in the MLS stadium stakes.
There’s other work to be done, but this is a really important milestone for them.
Sports attorney Irwin Raij
Even in late 2015, Leiweke suggested league patience was running thin. “Over the two-year process, there have been some owners that lost faith in Miami,” he told an Overtown audience in December 2015, at the same YWCA where he appeared this week.
Owners have agreed to extend Beckham’s option as he pursued investors, but MLS Commissioner Don Garber said earlier this year he had until the end of 2017 to close a Miami deal.
Recent negotiations with Miami-Dade raised at least the possibility of a franchise deal falling through. One provision gives Beckham 60 days to pay a $450,000 deposit on the county land after the Miami-Dade commission approves the deal, which is expected June 6.
Michael Hernández, the county’s communications director, said the provision was inserted to give Beckham time to get his agreement sewn up with the league. “Miami-Dade County agreed to a 60-day window in order to allow Miami Beckham United the opportunity to secure Major League Soccer’s approval,” he said.
Even with the contractual exit in place, Beckham’s team remains confident MLS will approve the franchise agreement after Miami-Dade agrees to sell its land. “I think site control is a key element to the sale of any potential franchise,” said Irwin Raij, a sports lawyer with O’Melveny in New York who is a co-owner of a new MLS franchise in Los Angeles. “There’s other work to be done, but this is a really important milestone for them.”
The Beckham group already paid $19 million to buy six acres of privately owned land in Overtown and now wants the three-acre county truck depot to complete the assemblage. The franchise isn’t seeking public money and would pay property taxes, so would lack the county subsidies pledged to the county’s existing pro sports stadiums.
I’ve done 19 of these. I’ve never had a more difficult process than this.
Tim Leiweke on David Beckham’s Miami stadium quest.
Miami-Dade has not released a draft contract with Beckham, but a two-page summary of the pending deal outlines an extended payment plan the county would grant the stadium venture.
The pending county deal requires $450,000 within 60 days of commission approval, and Miami-Dade could keep that money if the sale doesn’t close after another nine months. Assuming a June approval, that deadline would arrive next March. At that point, Beckham must pay another $900,000 if he wants to extend the closing another six months. If the deal doesn’t close by then, Miami-Dade could keep that money, bringing the total to $1.3 million at risk.
To close the county land deal and actually take title to the property, Beckham must pay $5 million, then an additional $1 million every year until the total proceeds hit $9 million. Miami-Dade plans to charge 5 percent interest on the payments.
The stickiest task facing the Beckham group is winning zoning approval from Miami, since that involves a partial closing of Northwest Seventh Street as well as addressing traffic and parking concerns from a 25,000-seat stadium with no plan for parking garages. Leiweke said he expects the city approval process to take a year, and that the stadium would open in 2021 after a two-year construction process.
The county deal could have been done by now. Mayor Carlos Gimenez initially wanted to put it before the 13-member County Commission this week, but the commissioner representing Overtown, Audrey Edmonson, said she wanted a community meeting first. At Wednesday’s event, she sounded supportive.
“I heard what your concerns were,” Edmonson told the crowd at the Overtown YWCA. “I’m here to say I did address those concerns [with the Beckham group] and they are willing to cooperate with those terms.”