Miami-Dade County got a peek Sunday at the acrimony it can expect over the next weeks and perhaps months as two sides faced off in a testy debate over potential Major League Soccer stadium at PortMiami.
John Alschuler, the New York-based real-estate adviser for David Beckham, the retired English player who wants to build a home for his new franchise at the seaport, squabbled on local television with John Fox, a former Royal Caribbean Cruises vice president who is leading the opposition against the waterfront site.
On Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4’s Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede, Fox said his group, the Miami Seaport Alliance, wants soccer but not at the port, saying the southwest corner of Dodge Island, which is too shallow to accommodate ships, has better uses for cruise and cargo growth.
That’s not how the port’s own master plan sees it, Alschuler countered, noting it envisions a major commercial development. Royal Caribbean is against a stadium there, he posited, “because they have a sweetheart real-estate deal” with the port for the company’s on-site headquarters.
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The lease has been criticized by commercial brokers who questioned the below-market deal in which Royal, beginning in 2015, will pay $12 per square foot in rent — about 45 percent of market rate when the deal was inked in 2011 — for its three buildings.
A provision in the agreement ensures Royal will continue to have unobstructed downtown views from its main building, Alschuler noted.
“Carnival pays market rate. Norwegian pays market rate,” he said of the two other big three cruise companies, Carnival Corp. and Norwegian Cruise Line, both headquartered far west of the port, in Doral.
“We will pay rent — unlike Royal Caribbean, we will pay market rent” to lease port property for the stadium, Alschuler said. A port consultant estimated the property could lease for $3 million a year, though Beckham representatives have privately pushed back against that number.
Fox, who recently retired as vice president for governmental relations but remains Royal’s registered County Hall lobbyist, called the company the “biggest developer” at the port, building its facility and then turning over ownership to the port in exchange for the long-term lease.
“I’m not here representing Royal Caribbean’s interest,” he said.
The alliance includes both local longshoremen unions and two stevedoring companies that load and unload cargo at the port, as well as Royal and billionaire auto magnate Norman Braman, an opponent of public deals for private sports teams who has said the combination of soccer and commercial development on the port would be a “fiasco.”
Over the next few days, the alliance plans to release a list of 20 city mayors who oppose a port stadium, Fox said. Many of them were also against a short-lived proposal last year to renovate the Miami Dolphins’ stadium partly with taxpayer funds.
Unlike that plan, Beckham and his investors would privately pay for construction for the 25,000 seat stadium, which the group estimates would cost about $250 million at the port. The partners are seeking a state subsidy that could amount to $40 million over 20 years.
Alschuler reiterated the Beckham group’s position, citing an unreleased study it commissioned, that stadium congestion would not overlap with cruise-passenger traffic. Matches, mostly on Saturday evenings, would not be scheduled on the same days as games for the neighboring Miami Heat.
“Are you telling this community that that soccer stadium is going to be empty the other 345 days of the year?” Fox asked Alschuler. Alschuler responded that the stadium would be used 24 to 25 days a year, compared to 26 to 27 days in other MLS locations.
“We need a site that can communicate to the whole world the beauty of Miami, the excitement of Miami. It needs to be downtown. It needs to be near the water,” Alschuler said. “And we’re open to any alternative that can move this community in the 21st century.”
Fox snapped back: “If you think you can come down here from New York and tell this community after 125 years that Beckham is going to help us go into the 21st century — I think that’s a little bit insulting.”