Miami-Dade defended its $9 million no-bid land deal with David Beckham in court filings Friday, saying the stadium the retired soccer star wants to build would bring an economic boost that “far exceeds” the sales price on the county land.
County lawyers argued the June deal to sell about three acres of land to Beckham and partners was justified under Florida’s economic-development statute, and asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to block the pending sale. Beckham’s group has until mid-September to make a $450,000 down payment on the Overtown parcel, which sits next to six acres he and his partners purchased for $19 million from a private owner last year.
Bruce Matheson, a wealthy activist with property near the proposed stadium, sued Miami-Dade on July 21, asking a judge to force the county to undo the sale and put the parcel up for competitive bidding. The litigation came two weeks before Major League Soccer owners met to consider granting Beckham an expansion franchise in Miami for a deeply discounted price, and the board opted instead to have a committee negotiate terms with the Beckham group this month.
The delay could give the league time to have the suit neutralized, with Miami-Dade requesting a dismissal. This week, the Beckham group asked to be added as a defendant in the case. Matheson is known for his deep pockets when it comes to legal bills, and success in foiling the Miami Open tennis tournament’s efforts to expand on county parkland on Key Biscayne that his family once owned.
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At issue is whether Miami-Dade acted legally in signing a sales deal with Miami Beckham United without offering the land — currently a truck depot for the county’s sewer department — to other bidders. The county based the sales price on two appraisals from 2015, but Matheson’s suit claims Miami-Dade is ignoring more recent high-value sales in the area north of the Miami River. With Miami-Dade agreeing to reduce the price to cover the expense of cleaning up the property, the Beckham group would be obligated to pay about $8.4 million for the land.
In their first response to the suit, filed Friday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, county lawyers argued Matheson ignored well-established state precedent of letting governments bypass the bidding process when a land sale is justified as economic development. In exchange for the no-bid process, the Beckham group agreed to create 50 permanent full-time jobs at the 25,000-seat stadium and pursue various training and vendor programs for the local area.
“As the statute fully authorizes the County to convey land [for the stadium] under terms and conditions whose economic development value far exceeds any price that could be obtained from the mere sale of the land through competitive bidding, no challenge to the sale of the property can succeed,” the county wrote.
Residents in Overtown and neighboring Spring Garden, where Matheson owns land, are fighting the stadium proposal, which still requires zoning approval from Miami. Matheson declined to comment Friday.