New David Beckham partner Jorge Mas boasts of a bold, high-tech vision for a Miami soccer stadium. And that could get complicated. Mas also says the nine-acre site in Overtown that the Beckham group secured for the venue two years ago just isn’t large enough to match his ambitions.
“I want to make it the most technologically advanced, futuristic stadium in the country,” Mas said in an interview this week. “Obviously, you need more than nine acres for that. We’ve been exploring the surrounding area in terms of: What can we do to put this all together?”
The comments from the new local face of Beckham’s five-year quest to build a Major League Soccer stadium in Miami are the most concrete evidence yet that the longstanding plan to play in Overtown may be changing. Mas and brother José, leaders of Miami-based infrastructure firm Mastec, joined the Beckham partnership late last year as the soccer star’s first local investors. In private meetings, they’ve been entertaining the possibility of the future MLS franchise playing somewhere other than on the current Overtown site.
“They’re looking everywhere,” said Carlos Gimenez, mayor of Miami-Dade County, whose administration negotiated the pending sale of three acres of county land in Overtown for the current stadium site. “They’re looking at all different options.”
Mas confirmed he has met with developers about other stadium sites, but said the meetings don’t mean the soccer group is leaving Overtown. “We listen to everybody,” he said. “We’re nice.”
Sources who have spoken to the Mas brothers say they’ve discussed a broad range of alternative sites in Miami, including land next to Marlins Park and the old Bertram boat yard off the Miami River. At least one option would take them outside the city. Developer David Martin has met with Jorge Mas about a 24-acre site 10 miles away in Doral, according to two sources familiar with the encounter. The land houses PepsiCo’s local operations, and sits just north of the 36th Street exit of the Palmetto Expressway and currently houses a PepsiCo bottling plant and office complex.
Martin’s real estate entities paid $40 million for the site at 7777 NW 41st St., Doral, in January. The Pepsi site would give the Beckham group a far roomier footprint, but also require new approval from MLS owners. The league granted permission to build a stadium only within Miami’s city limits, MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche said this week.
Martin declined to comment through a publicist. He was on the short list of people invited to dine with Beckham the night of Jan. 29 at Brickell Avenue’s Komodo restaurant, according to photos from the event.
The dinner — which included Gimenez and Beckham partners Marcelo Claure and Simon Fuller — followed a public celebration that day at the Adrienne Arsht performance hall in downtown Miami where MLS Commissioner Don Garber formally announced league approval of an expansion franchise for the Beckham group. Jorge Mas took the starring role of speaking last, promising to redefine the stadium experience in Miami.
“No longer will the sports experience in this town be where you go to a game, you watch it, and you drive back home,” he said. “Not going to happen.”
No speaker mentioned Overtown during the event, which drew global media coverage to chronicle Beckham’s triumphant return to Miami to formally join the MLS as an owner. He played for the league’s Los Angeles squad 10 years ago, and part of his contract granted him the option to purchase an expansion franchise for a deeply discounted price. The terms of his finalized MLS deal haven’t been disclosed, but Beckham originally was locked into a $25 million expansion fee, and now the league charges new owners roughly $150 million to join.
In interviews, Beckham and Claure described the Mas brothers as the saviors of their Miami venture, following the withdrawal of former controlling partner Todd Boehly. Privately, the Mas brothers have expressed concerns about the Overtown site, which isn’t large enough to accommodate parking garages, much less the entertainment options and other revenue generators being talked about by the new partners.
Jorge Mas said he wanted to create some sort of “tech hub” with ties to the stadium — such as an office complex housing tech companies that could share real estate with the soccer venue. Another new Beckham partner, Japanese mogul Masayoshi Son, presides over the investment firm Softbank, which has stakes in Sprint (where Claure serves as CEO), and is the largest shareholder of Uber.
Mas said Son is ready to pump significant dollars of tech investment into the stadium venture, and that the strategy requires a larger parcel than what the partnership has assembled in Overtown. Mas said that could be solved by acquiring more land nearby in Overtown, preserving the plan announced in late 2015 by Beckham’s group to build the 25,000-seat stadium on land off Northwest Sixth Avenue that’s a few blocks from the Miami River.
“If we could do something adjacent to the stadium — or link it to the stadium — that would be ideal,” he said. “That could bode very, very well for Miami.”
Mas also touted the importance of a soccer “academy” — a youth soccer program operating under the umbrella of the MLS franchise. He said the partnership is shopping for land for that as well, and that it could include a charter school on the complex.
That the Mas plan for a stadium does not fit on the partnership’s current stadium site suggests more drama awaits soccer fans who have fretted over Beckham’s failed bids for past locations in Miami. Beckham first met with Gimenez in the summer of 2013 before formally pursuing a stadium site at the county-owned PortMiami. The cruise industry blocked that plan, and Beckham dropped two other sites — waterfront next to the AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami and land facing Marlins Park in Little Havana — before announcing the Overtown location in December 2015.
Despite the celebration at the Arsht Center in January, Beckham and partners still do not own the entire nine-acre site. The partnership has already paid about $19 million for six acres of privately owned land there, but has only turned over about $500,000 toward a $9 million purchase price for the remaining three acres owned by Miami-Dade County.
The deal approved by county commissioners in 2017 gives the partnership until June to close on the sale, with the possibility of extending the deadline until the end of 2018 if the partners pay an additional $900,000. The sales agreement is the subject of a lawsuit by Bruce Matheson, a wealthy activist who owns property in the nearby Spring Garden neighborhood. He claims Miami-Dade violated the law when it offered a no-bid deal for the land to the Beckham group. A judge has already sided with the county, but Matheson is appealing.
Matheson is part of a neighborhood group opposing the stadium, and the resistance could give Mas and partners a reason to head elsewhere if another site looked easier to approve. Miami commissioners must approve zoning changes and street closures for the stadium in Overtown, and the Beckham group hasn’t started that process yet.
With Mas publicly raising doubts about the Overtown footprint, his comments are sure to heat up an already robust effort by land holders to get on the soccer group’s short list.
Rosario Kennedy, a former Miami commissioner who now runs a real estate and lobbying business, is pitching a cluster of land in Overtown — at the intersection of Northwest 13th Street and 1st Avenue, and about a mile east from the current stadium site. She’s touching on Spring Garden opposition to the current site as a reason for the Beckham group to rethink an area closer to downtown where “residents will not have large crowds walking past or parking in front of their homes.”
As Mas weighs the next steps, he’s pointing to a popular local issue — affordable housing — as one way to reposition the current stadium plan in Overtown.
“In Overtown, how can we assist with workforce housing?” Mas said. “There’s a whole housing component we are potentially looking to there. I’m looking at the housing component as a way to acquire additional land.”
He declined to offer details. Should the Beckham group pivot to a different stadium location, it would be free to propose a housing complex on the six acres it already owns, sell it or use the land for something else. The group’s agreement with Miami-Dade requires it to build a stadium on the three acres, but the county still owns that property.
Mas said he is planning to meet with community leaders in Overtown about his stadium plans. “We’re always going to try and do the right thing,” he said.
“Obviously, if I could [realize] my vision for a tech hub and high-paying jobs, it would be great for Overtown,” he said. “There’s no perfect site. Overtown is ours. I think it has great potential. But, like everything else, it has challenges.”