A group trying to block David Beckham and partners from building a 25,000-seat soccer stadium in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood packed a community center on Thursday night and urged residents to resist the plan.
“It is not a done deal,” said Bishop James Adams, the organizer and a pastor at the St. John Institutional Missionary Baptist Church, who coaxed the audience of about 40 people to repeat the slogan. “Say it again.”
His message captured some of the on-the-ground reality facing Beckham after his triumphant return to Miami on Monday to celebrate Major League Soccer approving an expansion franchise nearly five years after Beckham began his stadium quest. But while Beckham and partners — including Miami business titans Jorge and José Mas — won league approval for a team, the group still has not finalized the purchase of three acres needed for a planned nine-acre Overtown stadium, or won city approval for street closures and zoning changes around the land where Northwest Sixth Street meets Sixth Avenue.
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There’s also the question of the partnership’s next steps now that the Mas brothers, the first local investors to join the group in five years, have taken charge. The brothers have discussed other would-be stadium sites in private meetings after joining the Beckham group in the fall, but this week they and others said publicly the plan remains to build the privately financed stadium on nine acres of land in Overtown.
Thursday’s meeting drew an overflow crowd of about 70 people at the community center in Overtown’s Reeves Park, but some were lured there by false pretenses. Adams and other organizers had given public-housing residents near the stadium site misleading fliers designed to look like official eviction notices, encouraging them to attend what turned out to be an anti-soccer meeting.
Adams apologized for the ruse at the start of the evening. “It was to get your attention,” he said. “When there are drastic situations, we’ve got to take drastic measures.”
Adams has allied with residents of the more affluent neighborhood nearby, Spring Garden, to oppose the Beckham stadium, which opponents claim will worsen traffic by not providing parking for ticket holders. The Beckham partnership has pointed to the tradition of soccer fans “marching to the match” from other areas, and see the nearby Culmer Metrorail station and ride-hailing services like Uber as allowing the stadium to thrive without parking garages.
Bruce Matheson, a wealthy property owner in Spring Garden, is suing to block Miami-Dade’s sale of land to the Beckham group. County commissioners approved the $9 million sale last year, and the Beckham group has paid about $450,000 into the deal with a closing scheduled for later in the year. A judge has already ruled against Matheson, but he is appealing. Matheson is also aligned with the Spring Garden and Overtown alliance opposing the stadium, raising the potential of Beckham and partners facing resistance with some money behind it.
At the park center Thursday night, organizers handed out orange T-shirts with the words “Soccer Stadium” crossed out. But most of the questions and complaints weren’t about soccer.
Instead, audience members asked about the false suggestion by the fliers that the county-run housing complexes of Culmer Place and Culmer Gardens were on track for demolition. They aren’t. But both projects do appear with dozens of others in a long-term county plan for potential redevelopment — rehabbing or replacing the residences to upgrade them. Housing administrators for Miami-Dade told the crowd there was not money available for anything that ambitious, and that there are no plans to relocate anyone in the complexes.
Some audience members spoke out against the Beckham plan, which includes a pledge to create 50 full-time jobs and pursue local hiring and contracting under the terms of the pending county land sale.
Deborah Roberts, who described herself as a community activist from Overtown, said aggressive policing in the neighborhood will only get worse once a major sports facility arrives. “When the stadium comes around, we’re going to have law enforcement harassing everybody,” she said. “You all are just bullying us, to take this land from us.”