Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade commissioners: PortMiami off-limits for David Beckham soccer stadium

The options keep narrowing for David Beckham and his investors looking to build a Major League Soccer stadium in Miami.

On Tuesday, Miami-Dade County commissioners eliminated from contention the publicly owned PortMiami location Beckham’s group had initially set its sights on.

On Monday, Miami Beckham United conceded that the port location was now its Plan B, with a new focus on filling a downtown, deep-water boat slip.

But for now, at least, the investors will have no fallback plan, with commissioners voting 11-1 against a port stadium.

“It’s unfair to give Mr. Beckham and his group any hope that things could happen in a place that has so many negatives,” said Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, who called for the vote.

The commission action, which came during a discussion of future port development, was unscheduled but clearly orchestrated behind the scenes by the Miami Seaport Alliance, an organization led by Royal Caribbean Cruises in opposition to a soccer stadium next to the cruise company’s waterfront headquarters. The alliance and its public-relations firm were in attendance in full force, even handing out stickers outside the chambers before the meeting.

In contrast, no one from Beckham’s core group was present — an absence that underscored how the international soccer star has been outmaneuvered at times in the game of local politics. Beckham representatives have said they want grassroots support for the MLS expansion franchise and are not interested in waging a negative campaign.

Commissioners said repeatedly that their vote should not be taken as a rebuke to Beckham’s broader effort to bring back professional soccer. They want his franchise here, the politicians said — just not at the port.

“Soccer will keep Miami on the map, will add value to Miami,” Commissioner Jean Monestime said.

There seemed to be more support for the water basin, known as the Florida East Coast Railway slip, that Beckham’s group is now targeting. But that site is fraught with complications, since it is owned by the city of Miami and would involve a land swap with the county. City voters would also have to sign off in a referendum in August or November.

“I think that the people of Miami will vote in favor of it,” County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said after the meeting.

An early conceptual plan envisions filling the nine-acre slip to connect Museum Park to the north with AmericanAirlines Arena and the property known as Parcel B to the south. A 20,000-seat stadium would sit next to Biscayne Boulevard and the arena, with the remaining area turned into waterfront green space.

Environmentalists and former city leaders, including former Mayor Manny Diaz, have already opposed filling the basin, which is part of the state-designated Biscayne Bay Aquifer Preserve.

“I realize that no matter where this stadium goes, there’s going to be some objectors,” said Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, whose district includes the slip. “We’re not going to be able to please everyone.”

The sole commissioner who voted against the PortMiami stadium prohibition, Juan C. Zapata, did not speak during the debate. “Actions speak louder than words,” he later posted on Twitter. Commissioner Barbara Jordan was absent from the meeting.

Only one commissioner, Bruno Barreiro, said putting a soccer stadium next to Marlins Park in his district would be a better option, calling it the “path of least resistance.” Beckham’s business partner, American Idol creator Simon Fuller, has dismissed that location as “spiritually tainted” by the unpopular public financing deal for the ballpark.

Politicians have been reluctant to name the Marlins since the ouster of former Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who pushed for the ballpark. Barreiro himself referred to the area as the “Orange Bowl” site. But both Gimenez and Commissioner Dennis Moss invoked the Marlins on Tuesday — to say soccer “is not the Marlins deal.”

Beckham and his investors would pay for a stadium using mostly private dollars, with a possible state subsidy. Though they have yet to put a price on filling the boat slip and building a stadium, their estimate for a port stadium was about $250 million.

Gimenez said the franchise would have to pay rent. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said Tuesday the city would expect a payment in lieu of property taxes.

The Beckham group had zeroed in on the port by November, when it was in early talks with Gimenez’s administration. In December, commissioners unanimously gave the go-ahead for the talks to proceed.

Beckham was formally awarded the franchise in February, complete with a news conference at the Pérez Art Museum Miami with a direct view of the port site on the southwest corner of Dodge Island, which is too shallow to accommodate cargo or cruise ships.

A port master plan calls for high-rise office and commercial development on the property to bring in much-needed rents to debt-ridden PortMiami. But from the start, some commissioners said a port stadium made them uneasy.

What to do with the port property remains unresolved. Commissioners couldn’t agree Tuesday whether to move forward with the commercial development plans or to save the mostly vacant land until the county discovers a port-related use for it.

“I’m getting mixed signals,” Gimenez said.

The mayor added that he was scouting undisclosed, alternative sites for the stadium as late as last week, though none of them have panned out because they are privately owned and would come with a price tag he called “exorbitant.”

After the vote, Gimenez characterized the commission’s position as sending a message that the boat slip is a better stadium site. But he wouldn’t call it the only possible location.

“If this Plan A doesn’t come to pass, then there’ll be another Plan B,” he said. “There’s always a Plan B. And a Plan C.”

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