If David Beckham and his partners want to build a Major League Soccer stadium on Miami's only public golf course, they'll need voters to let them. As time runs tight to place a question on November's ballot, the public has yet to see any plans.
Beckham's group was awarded an MLS franchise in January when it was believed a stadium would be built in Overtown, but plans unofficially shifted to Melreese Golf Course shortly afterward. When Beckham partnered with Jorge Mas, an executive at Miami-based infrastructure giant MasTec, the concept evolved beyond a stadium into a larger complex that spurred talks with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and City Manager Emilio Gonzalez about using the larger tract of land at Melreese.
Thus, Melreese emerged as the front-runner for the soccer group's plans to build a home for the franchise. Yet after four months of promising plans to Miami officials, Beckham and partner Jorge Mas have yet to publicly present a single rendering, site plan or economic impact report to the public regarding what is expected to be a significant redevelopment of the publicly owned Melreese golf course — a plan that will likely be a political tinderbox heading into election season.
The Overtown site didn't need voter approval because the Beckham group bought that land — though some of that sale is tied up in litigation. When Melreese came into the picture, Suarez and Gonzalez committed to putting any proposal to a public vote.
In order to put the question on the November ballot, Miami commissioners would need to approve the measure at either their July 12 or July 26 meeting, unless they agree to hold a special meeting before the Aug. 7 deadline to submit ballot items to Miami-Dade's elections department. The soccer group needs at least three commissioners' votes to get their plan to a referendum.
This means the pressure is on for Beckham and Mas to present their vision to elected officials and the public in the next few weeks. Apparently, the Beckham group is preparing for a big reveal soon.
Sources familiar with the proposal have told the Miami Herald that Mas is seeking meetings with all five Miami commissioners this week to present a plan, which will include a stadium, hotel and retail space, several public soccer fields and a large public park.
Sources said the team tapped Miami-based Arquitectonica to develop conceptual images, which is expected to debut publicly at the July 12 commission meeting at City Hall.
The Beckham group did not respond to the Herald's request for comment. But an hour after this story was published online Tuesday night, Mas sent tweets confirming that plans will soon be revealed for a "world class park, soccer village and tech hub."
When a Univision journalist asked if the plans involve Melreese, Mas responded, in Spanish, that the plans would be revealed on July 12 — the day of the Miami commission meeting.
When a Herald reporter asked on Twitter for confirmation that the plan would be revealed to Miami commissioners July 12, Mas responded: "Stay tuned. This is the people's team. Our fans are at the center of everything we do."
Gonzalez, who began talks with the Beckham group in March, said on Tuesday he was eager to see a final proposal.
"This is a transformational project," he said, saying it's good timing to debut a plan during this year's FIFA World Cup.
The anticipated Melreese plan has already stirred up opposition from golfers who want to keep the golf course the way it is and from supporters of the First Tee youth program, which teaches kids how to golf. An online petition to preserve the golf course has so far garnered 1,600 signatures. Advocates for more open green space are expected to come out against any development at Melreese, which is presently the only public golf course within Miami city limits.
A contingent of soccer supporters who have long awaited the formation of a Miami MLS team would also likely campaign for a stadium plan — regardless of the location.
Melreese's terrain and location raise questions: Is it possible to build a suitable stadium complex so close to Miami International Airport? Would any environmental remediation be required? When the adjacent Grapeland Water Park was built more than a decade ago, early soil testing detected pockets of polluted soil and buried ash — likely from a city waste incinerator closed down decades ago. How would a stadium complex generate revenue for the city of Miami?
The Beckham group has not answered those questions.
No matter what, the first significant vote would be at the Miami commission. If Beckham and Mas do not win that vote or if they fail at the ballot box in November, the group might pivot to a location outside of Miami. Mas has met with Doral officials to discuss the possibility of building a stadium complex on land privately owned by real estate developers David Martin and Stephen Bittel. Public officials in Doral have publicly expressed their enthusiasm for an MLS stadium in their city.