Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez upended the negotiations with David Beckham and his investors Monday by proposing that the group consider building a Major League Soccer stadium on the downtown waterfront — but not at PortMiami.
As an alternative, Gimenez proposed filling a massive boat slip between Museum Park and AmericanAirlines Arena, which, according to the mayor, would create enough new land for a stadium as well as a pedestrian walkway along Biscayne Bay.
“Downtown Miami will greatly benefit from the creation of a grand waterfront park that will serve to bring our urban core closer to the water, providing a magnificent bay front walk along Biscayne Bay,” Gimenez wrote in a letter late Monday to Beckham’s real-estate adviser.
The mayor’s request could significantly shift the soccer debate, which up until now has centered almost exclusively on the port’s southwest corner. That waterfront site has drawn strong opposition from some county commissioners and port interests, led by Royal Caribbean Cruises, which is headquartered next door.
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PortMiami is still in play for a possible 25,000-seat, open-air stadium, Gimenez told the Miami Herald. So are other potential sites, including adjacent to the Miami Marlins’ ballpark in Little Havana.
But by formally requesting that Beckham’s group look into filling the slip and report back to the county in two weeks, the mayor is steering negotiations toward an option that had only briefly been discussed nearly six months ago.
“I’ve always said everybody needs to take a deep breath,” Gimenez said. “We’re still working through this.”
In a statement, Miami Beckham United said it will examine the feasibility of filling the slip and building a stadium, which the group has pledged to pay for using private funds. The group won approval in Tallahassee last week to apply for a state subsidy.
“Our goal from the outset has been to create a great fan experience, to provide an economic asset that creates jobs, and design a stadium that communicates the energy of Miami to the entire world,” the group said. “The Port is a strong site; however, a stadium next to AmericanAirlines Arena is an exciting possibility.”
The head of the Miami Seaport Alliance, which was organized by Royal Caribbean in opposition to a port stadium, said the organization would not put up resistance to locations outside of PortMiami’s Dodge Island.
“Whatever site the community wants to do is lovely and wonderful, and we leave it to our elected officials to decide,” said John Fox, the alliance president and a Royal Caribbean lobbyist. “Our position has always been that we’re not in favor of getting this done at the seaport.”
No one is suggesting that filling and building what is formally known as the Florida East Coast Railway slip would be easy — or cheap.
For starters, the property is owned by the city of Miami, which would have to sell it or convey it to the county. The city charter requires a public vote over the use of any waterfront property. Gimenez said municipal attorneys would have to determine if a vacant slip falls under that provision.
Shortly before Gimenez sent his letter Monday, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said he had not heard any “official” word on a potential interest in the slip.
“But it has been the topic of conversation many times,” he said, adding that filling it “would be a monumental task.”
In December, both Gimenez and Regalado said the possibility wasn’t under serious consideration for soccer.
Developers have long eyed the slip as one of the last remaining bayfront properties. At one point, the Marlins considered it as a possible location for their ballpark. But they nixed the idea as cost-prohibitive because of the millions of dollars it would take to pump out water and fill the site with rock trucked in from elsewhere.
In 2000, Gimenez, then Miami’s city manager, wrote in a memo that filling the entire slip would create a 9.8-acre developable site. It would require 400,000 cubic yards of fill material and the construction of a new seawall. Those improvements would have increased the value of the site to $42.7 million, Gimenez wrote at the time.
Neither Gimenez nor John Alschuler, Beckham’s real-estate adviser and one of his lobbyists, would say Monday how much the filled property could be worth today.
Gimenez did say the county estimates it would cost between $10 million and $16 million just to fill the slip using commercial material — as opposed to rocks unearthed during the ongoing PortMiami dredge, which Gimenez said might be too far along to tap as fill.
The slip has actually been on the radar for months. A Nov. 15 county email regarding topics for discussion for an upcoming soccer meeting a list of issues involving filling the slip. Among them was that environmental and building permits from several state and federal agencies would be required, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
But because it’s a man-made slip without any protected sea grass beneath it, Gimenez said county environmental regulators have given him generally positive feedback about the idea.
For its part, Beckham’s group didn’t list the possibility among its priorities because it didn’t think the county would like the idea of possibly losing potential parkland.
That calculus has changed because Gimenez has asked the group to consider the property behind the arena, known as Parcel B, as part of the expanded park space that could be linked along the bay to Museum Park. A Cuban exile museum has been pushing to build there.
“The mayor’s willingness to add Parcel B to the discussion is a fundamental change because it means the park would be larger and arguably better, because it has a greater percentage of bayfront property,” Alschuler said.
Miami Herald staff writers Douglas Hanks and Charles Rabin contributed to this report.