The way he told it, David Beckham paid particular attention when he was on his way to a Miami Heat playoff game Tuesday night to the deep-water boat slip just north of AmericanAirlines Arena that has been revived as a potential location for a Major League Soccer stadium.
By the time he walked into Miami-Dade County Hall on Wednesday morning, Beckham was ready to give his blessing: “It’s a great site,” he said. “It’s equally as good as what we had at the port.”
While the retired English footballer didn’t go as far as to call the slip his top choice — that’s apparently still PortMiami — he made it clear that he does not envision his new team playing in the suburbs, essentially dismissing other locations outside the urban core that had been discussed, including next to Marlins Park, at Florida International University and by Miami International Airport.
“The preferred sites are the ones on the water,” Beckham told the Miami Herald in between meetings with county commissioners. “I’m not going to lie to people about that.”
Before Mayor Carlos Gimenez asked Beckham and his investors Monday to consider filling the boat slip, Beckham’s group had focused its $250 million stadium pitch almost entirely on the port’s southwest corner. That county-owned property is still part of the negotiations between Gimenez’s administration and Miami Beckham United, which has said it would pay privately for construction. The group also plans to apply for a state subsidy.
But the mayor’s request to look at the slip gave Beckham something new to discuss with commissioners, and several of them — Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa and Commissioners Esteban “Steve” Bovo and Juan C. Zapata — sounded more open to that site.
“The port was a location with a lot of negatives, but now that they’re looking at other possible locations, I’m very happy,” said Sosa, the leading port stadium opponent on the dais.
Even without a county agreement with Beckham’s group over a stadium, some commissioners and a group called Miami Seaport Alliance, led by Royal Caribbean Cruises, have said they are against the port site. The alliance has been running television, radio and newspaper advertisements in opposition. Beckham’s group countered with a Herald ad of its own Sunday.
Gimenez’s overture on the slip has mollified some of the critics, at least for now — which was probably one of the reasons the mayor proposed it.
“It seems to me they’re recognizing the port has challenges, and they’re trying to find solutions,” said Irwin Raij, a stadium-finance attorney at Foley & Lardner who represented Major League Baseball in the 2009 Miami Marlins ballpark deal.
The new site, however, has begun to draw its own detractors.
On Tuesday, former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz slammed Gimenez’s proposal, comparing it to the Marlins’ failed effort to bring a ballpark to what was then called Bicentennial Park and is now Museum Park.
“We refused to hand over one of the few remaining public waterfront locations to them because we wanted to safeguard public access to Biscayne Bay,” he said in a statement co-signed by former City Commissioners Angel Gonzalez, Joe Sanchez and Johnny Winton. It was Diaz’s first formal public statement on the ongoing soccer debate.
Diaz is known as a behind-the-scenes supporter for putting a soccer stadium next to the Marlins’ actual ballpark in Little Havana, a facility whose unpopular, tax-funded construction deal he helped champion.
At County Hall on Wednesday, commissioners welcomed Beckham and his group’s lobbyists. Sosa said she offered Beckham a cortadito, which he accepted. Zapata had Beckham meet some of the 4- and 5-year-old soccer players he coaches on a youth team.
Commissioner Xavier Suarez said that while he wished Beckham’s representatives would have given more thought to Suarez’s proposed stadium site next to the airport, he appreciated meeting face-to-face with the celebrity face of the soccer campaign.
“You know you’re talking to someone who has not only skin in the game but who has also won the game,” Suarez said, referring to Beckham’s accomplishments on the soccer field.
Yet for all the encouragement they gave Beckham, county commissioners would not be the only local government officials that would have to sign off on filling the slip for a stadium.
The site, formally known as the Florida East Coast Railway slip, falls under the city of Miami’s jurisdiction, as does the adjacent Museum Park. The county only owns Parcel B, the waterfront property behind the basketball arena. Gimenez asked Beckham’s group to turn Parcel B into a park and connect it, perhaps with a bayfront promenade, to the museums.
Beckham said he met in a previous visit with Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, who has cautioned repeatedly that any projects involving city waterfront property would require prior voter approval.
Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.