The David Beckham stadium site in Overtown may have fallen out of favor, but it continues making legal and financial demands on the retired soccer star and his partners.
While Beckham's new lead partner, Jorge Mas, heads up talks with Miami to build a stadium on a city golf course near Miami International Airport, the group faces a June 8 deadline to make a $901,500 down payment on three acres of county land on a different stadium site in Overtown. Beckham's lawyers are pressing Miami-Dade to waive the deadline since the 2017 land deal is the subject of a lawsuit, setting up a potential standoff on a payment needed to keep the agreement alive.
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Mayor Carlos Gimenez in late April refereed a meeting in his 29th-floor office with county and Beckham lawyers over the looming deadline to extend the closing on a $9 million purchase of the truck depot used by Miami-Dade's Water and Sewer Department. He said the dispute hasn't been resolved over whether a lawsuit frees the Beckham group from having to make the next scheduled down payment.
"There was a difference of opinion," he said of the April 30 meeting in his offices with Mas and lawyers on both sides, which the mayor described as heated. "There was even a difference of opinion within the county."
The lawsuit by wealthy activist Bruce Matheson challenging the pending sale did not prevent the Beckham group from making the first payment required under the agreement when it delivered Miami-Dade a $450,000 check on Sept. 8 as Hurricane Irma approached Miami. But that deadline arrived before Mas and his brother, Jose, joined the soccer bid as Beckham's first local partners and promptly began raising private doubts about the wisdom of building a stadium on the Overtown site.
Those doubts took center stage in January when Beckham joined the Mas brothers and MLS Commissioner Don Garber for a ceremony downtown to celebrate the league's formally awarding Miami an expansion franchise. Overtown was never mentioned during the event. Weeks later, Jorge Mas aired his first public doubts about the site, calling it too small for the expansive commercial and entertainment complex he wants to build alongside the stadium.
Officially, the Overtown site remains the Beckham group's choice for a stadium. The partners have already paid about $19 million for six acres of privately owned land next to the county parcel.
No partner has yet come out publicly to confirm that Melreese is the new choice. Still, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and city manager Emilio González are prepping for a November referendum to approve a stadium deal that González said still needs to be negotiated by the administration.
With the Melreese prospects still in question, there's a chance the Overtown site could find itself back in favor. County lawyers are scheduled to join attorneys for the Beckham group on June 5 before Florida's Third District Court of Appeal to defend the no-bid land agreement for the county portion of the Overtown site. County commissioners approved the agreement in June 2017 under Florida's economic-development law, citing the authority to waive normal bidding procedures if a project would help the economy.
Matheson, best known for his successful fight against the Miami Open tennis tournament expanding its Key Biscayne footprint at a county park, filed suit weeks after commission approval. His lawsuit claims Miami-Dade gave Beckham a sweetheart deal for the land, and should have let other would-be buyers compete for the property. Matheson owns property in nearby Spring Garden, where residents have joined with some in Overtown to oppose the Beckham plan.
A trial judge ruled for the county in October, and Matheson appealed. In their meetings with the county, Beckham lawyers have argued it's not fair to make the soccer group pay to extend the closing of the deal since the lawsuit prevents Miami-Dade from delivering an uncontested sale. Beckham's legal team declined to comment.
During the April 30 meeting, Gimenez said the Beckham group continued to treat the Overtown land as a potential stadium site even as they pursue a Melreese deal with Miami. He described Overtown as a backup plan for Beckham and partners if Miami voters say no.
"They have to jump the hurdle of a referendum," he said.
If that fails? "Then I guess we're it."