After a four-year quest, David Beckham on Tuesday finally secured land to build a soccer stadium in Miami, after county commissioners approved selling him three acres for $9 million.
“Yes, it has taken a while to get to this point,” Commissioner Xavier Suarez said. “But I think this community needs it … It is going to improve this community in so many ways.”
The 9-4 vote by Miami-Dade commissioners gives Beckham the right to buy the remaining third of his planned nine-acre stadium site in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. A short walk from the Miami River, the two-block expanse would house a 25,000-seat soccer venue with an open roof and no parking garages.
Now Beckham must win approval from the city of Miami to actually build the privately financed venue. Among other hurdles, that process will pit the retired soccer star against opposition from residents in the adjoining neighborhood of Spring Garden, who are warning of major disruption from Major League Soccer’s arrival.
“I want you to consider me and think of me when I’m not able to sleep at night because of the lights and the sounds from the crowd,” Meredith Vey, a Spring Garden resident, told commissioners before the vote.
After four years of trying, Tuesday’s decision brought a hat trick of milestones for Beckham and an investment group that includes Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, American Idol founder Simon Fuller and Todd Boehly, co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Though Miami must grant zoning approval for construction to actually begin, the Miami-Dade County Commission was the first government body to give formal and final approval for Beckham’s stadium plan. Under the terms of the no-bid deal to purchase a county truck depot in Overtown, Beckham’s group agreed to spend at least $175 million building a soccer stadium that will employ at least 50 people full time.
I want you to consider me and think of me when I’m not able to sleep at night because of the lights and the sounds from the crowd.
Spring Garden resident Meredith Vey
The agreement also gives Beckham full control of a stadium site for the first time since he launched his public quest for a Miami venue in the summer of 2013. While he began by lobbying to take over part of prime waterfront at the county’s PortMiami, he settled on an inland parcel in one of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods and in an area dotted with affordable-housing complexes.
Beckham also agreed to build what would be Miami-Dade’s only professional sports venue without a claim on public subsidies. Miami-Dade owns Marlins Park, owns and subsidizes AmericanAirlines Arena and has a deal with the Miami Dolphins to pay up to $5 million a year for large events drawn to a renovated stadium that owner Stephen Ross financed privately. But the deal Beckham’s team negotiated with Mayor Carlos Gimenez includes no subsidies, no free land and a stadium that would be privately owned and pay property taxes.
“I am delighted we are getting property taxes,” said Commissioner Sally Heyman, who voted against the still-unpopular 2009 deal to use county taxes to help build Marlins Park. “I look forward to a positive front-page headline.”
Now facing a zoning fight in Miami, the Beckham group may be ready to unveil an expanded ownership group with some local names. “We have other partners,” Tim Leiweke, Beckham’s top negotiator, said in a press conference. “Some of these partners are well known. And some of these partners have strong roots in Miami.”
The Beckham team expects to come before Miami commissioners in 2018, with two years needed for construction. That increases pressure on Leiweke’s goal of opening the stadium by 2020 — one year earlier than the partnership had said just weeks ago. He said it would cost about $220 million to develop the stadium, and that the team would spend $25 million on a training facility in the Miami area for players.
Beckham’s partners hope to use Tuesday’s vote as proof of momentum toward final government approval for their stadium plan as they seek an MLS expansion franchise from the league. MLS recruited Beckham to play for its Los Angeles team in 2007, and part of that high-profile deal gave him the option to buy an expansion franchise for $25 million. That price represents a steep discount for the current cost of joining the MLS, with expansion fees costing about $150 million.
The expansion discount, and Beckham’s extended hunt for a Miami stadium, has led to frustration among some owners as other cities and ownership groups vie to pay full price. The Beckham group now must win MLS approval for its Miami franchise, a vote that a source said the Beckham group hopes to secure by the end of June.
“We believe Major League Soccer needs Miami just as Miami needs Major League Soccer,” Leiweke said. “Miami must be part of the soccer revolution.”
On Tuesday, four commissioners voted against the proposal: Bruno Barreiro, whose district includes Spring Garden; Daniella Levine Cava, Jean Monestime and Javier Souto. The debate yielded one last-minute agreement by the Beckham group: that it would give county police and firefighters exclusive access to off-duty shifts inside the stadium, while Miami police could work the private shifts for security and safety outside.
With Miami in the midst of a mayoral election, the Beckham partnership said it doesn’t expect city approval to come to a vote before 2018. Francis Suarez, the city commissioner who is currently the leading candidate for mayor, said he’s been hearing complaints from Spring Garden residents. “They’ll have to address those concerns,” he said.
While the county approved a land sale on Tuesday, the Beckham partnership has years before it may pay the full $9 million. The soccer group negotiated a 60-day waiting period before it must pay a $450,000 deposit to Miami-Dade, time that team lawyer Neisen Kasdin said is needed to win MLS approval and to finalize both the financing and the ownership agreements for the venture. It must pay $5 million toward the land after 17 months or lose a $1.3 million deposit.
Miami-Dade plans to let the Beckham group stretch out $4 million worth of the payments over four years, at 5 percent interest. The county also would forgive about $600,000 of the purchase price to cover contamination clean-up costs for the truck depot.
“If anyone is familiar with that property,” said Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, whose district includes Overtown, “they would know it has been an eyesore for years.”
During the meeting, opponents in Spring Garden questioned the legality of the land deal, which tapped Florida’s economic-development laws to sell the parcel without offering it to other bidders. Miami-Dade appraised the land for $9 million at the end of 2015, when Beckham appeared on the verge of going ahead with stadium construction. The deal for the truck depot and warehouse used by the county’s Water and Sewer Department amounts to $74 per square foot, the same as the price Miami Beckham United paid in March 2016 for a six-acre parcel north and east.
This would be the second time MLS tried to mesh its league with the popularity of soccer in Miami’s immigrant-heavy population. And while international soccer matches routinely pack the Dolphins’ stadium, domestic soccer remains a question mark. Major League Soccer had once planned on placing a franchise at the old Orange Bowl in Little Havana, but the team wound up playing in Fort Lauderdale and folded in 2001.
But MLS has seen growing popularity across the country, and now boasts 22 franchises nationwide.
Beckham’s plans have faced the most criticism over the parking strategy. With no parking on site, the stadium would rely on spectators using public transit, cars for hire or walking from the closest parking garage more than a half mile away at the Overtown Transit center, on the other side of the I-95 overpass.
Part of Beckham’s deal with Miami-Dade requires shuttles from 2,000 parking spaces the team would secure at surrounding garages whenever the stadium has an event. The team has also touted the possibility of ferrying passengers up the Miami River by boat, and the tradition of soccer fans “marching to the match” on game day.
With soccer playing at nights during the spring and summer, the Miami marches may test fan resilience against rain and heat. “The people of the 305 don’t like to walk a lot,” said Commissioner Joe Martinez. “The people in Europe may walk to games. We don’t.”
But Beckham’s loyal corps of soccer aficionados argued Tuesday that the city is eager to embrace the team.
“Don’t underestimate this soccer community. It is amazing,” Eric Corey, wearing an authorized MLS Miami T-shirt, told commissioners. “You have the ability to put Miami on the international soccer map.”