David Beckham’s bid for a stadium in Miami faces a new hurdle as a wealthy landowner with a track record for fending off sports facilities is filing suit to block the county’s no-bid land deal for the soccer facility.
Bruce Matheson — whose lawyers have already blocked expansion of a tennis stadium on county land in Key Biscayne — filed suit this week against Miami-Dade over the county’s planned $9 million sale of about three acres to Beckham and partners for their 25,000-seat soccer stadium in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez used the state’s economic-development law to sell the land without offering it up to other buyers. The Matheson complaint, filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, cites state law requiring that land sales go to “the highest and best bidder.”
Matheson is best known for his central role in Miami-Dade’s Crandon Park, which sits on land his family traded to the county in exchange for the government building a bridge in the 1940s that would connect family property on the island to the mainland. Restrictions tied to that land sparked court fights between the Matheson heirs and Miami-Dade over the tennis stadium at the park that hosts the annual Miami Open tournament, and Bruce Matheson has successfully blocked an expansion of the facilities that the pro tourney says is crucial for it to remain in Key Biscayne.
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Michael Hernández, Gimenez’s communications director, described Matheson’s suit as an extension of his Crandon Park campaign.
“It’s apparent that Mr. Matheson hates professional sports,” Hernández said. “He’s doing his best to drive out the Miami Open from Key Biscayne, and now he hopes to block Major League Soccer from coming to Miami.”
Matheson, who owns property in the Spring Garden neighborhood near the stadium site, had telegraphed his intent to sue during public hearings about the proposed sale. There, he publicly offered to buy the three acres of county land himself, saying the county was selling the property for too little.
Miami-Dade used the same economic-development law to sell the developer of the proposed American Dream Miami mega-mall 82 acres of state land for $12 million in 2015 in a no-bid deal that had the county acting as a pass-through seller. The agreement received state approval and did not face a court challenge from the other Miami-Dade malls currently fighting the project in Northwest Miami-Dade.
Like American Dream, Beckham’s group agreed to a package of hiring requirements and community benefits tied to the no-bid land deal, with a price based on private-sector appraisals.
Al Dotson Jr., a lawyer and lobbyist with Bilzin Sumberg who frequently negotiates with Miami-Dade, said he’s seen the county invoke the state statute to close land deals with single parties. “It’s been used more frequently in recent years,” Dotson said. “It’s usually some mega project that is unique, and will have some significant impact on the local economy.”
The Matheson suit comes at a delicate time for Beckham, as his partnership still needs both league approval for its Miami franchise and a firm commitment by its investors to stick with a project that’s years behind schedule. Beckham struggled to find a prime investor willing to bankroll the Miami stadium, which would be privately owned and receive no local subsidies. When county commissioners approved the proposed sale in June, the Beckham group said it expected to have league approval by early August.
In his suit, Matheson asks a judge to block Miami-Dade’s pending sale of the three-acre truck depot in Overtown to the Beckham partnership and require the county to offer the land to other bidders. Homeowners in Spring Garden were the proposed stadium’s loudest critics, saying it would ruin the quiet neighborhood with traffic and noise.
While county commissioners approved the sale June 6, the Beckham group has yet to make a down payment on the land. The original deal gave the soccer partnership 60 days to make its first payment of $500,000 toward the purchase, but that deadline was extended by rewrites of the contract to accommodate last-minute requests by commissioners the day of the vote, Hernández said. He said the Beckham group now has until mid-September to make a down payment or lose the land.
Matheson’s suit arrives as part of a broader effort by Spring Garden to undo Miami-Dade’s approval of the Beckham land deal. The agreement sparked a surprise fight with Miami following a last-minute demand by County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz that the stadium only hire Miami-Dade police and paramedics for off-duty safety shifts inside the venue. Those jobs would have otherwise gone to Miami police and fire employees, and the city promptly threatened a lawsuit if the county didn’t undo the requirement it imposed on Beckham’s agreement minutes before the June 6 vote.
Gimenez and Beckham’s main backer on the County Commission, Audrey Edmonson, both said they sympathized with Miami’s complaints and agreed to negotiate a solution with the city. No deal has been announced, and Spring Garden property owners cited the controversy in a letter sent this week to county commissioners.
“The Overtown special events stadium IS NOT A DONE DEAL!” read the letter, signed by Matheson, homeowners and church leaders. “Please send this deal back to be competitively bid as required by the law, and get a deal that is GOOD FOR THE COUNTY AND GOOD FOR THE RESIDENTS.”