As David Beckham prepares to swoop into Miami City Hall next week to push a plan to transform a municipal golf course into a massive office park and soccer complex, it's easy to forget about another hard-fought win: the stadium site the partnership secured just a year ago in Overtown.
Beckham and partners won a lopsided vote before the Miami-Dade County Commission in June 2017 to secure the right to pay $9 million for three acres of county land within city limits. The county truck depot sits near the Miami River and next to six acres that an entity controlled by Beckham partners bought for about $19 million in 2016.
The lingering Overtown deal with Miami-Dade captures the sharp and bold pivot demanded by Beckham's newest lead partner, Jorge Mas, after the leading Miami executive and his brother, Jose Mas, joined the venture in late 2017. Word quickly leaked that the Mas brothers — who lead MasTec, a global infrastructure firm with $6 billion in revenue — wanted out of the all-but-finalized Overtown site in favor of pursuing a larger parcel somewhere else.
Those nine acres in Overtown now are being dwarfed by the more than 70 acres that the Beckham group wants to lease from Miami near the county's Miami International Airport. The deal, which is scheduled for a vote by the five-member City Commission on July 12 — a session expected to feature Beckham's first appearance before an elected body since his Miami stadium quest began in 2013 — would be sent to city voters in a November referendum for the final decision.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
If passed, it would eventually let Beckham's for-profit venture transform the bulk of the Melreese municipal golf course into a commercial complex with a 28,000-seat soccer stadium, nearly 140,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, and one of the largest office centers in the county, with up to 1 million square feet of rentable space.
Joined by a $20 million public park the Beckham group would pay for, the Melreese campus would offer the kind of revenue streams the cramped Overtown site — which is too small for a parking garage — couldn't deliver.
"This is huge," said Matt Cheezem, managing director in Miami JLL, a top commercial brokerage. He noted Miami-Dade's largest office tower, downtown's Southeast Financial Center, has about 1.2 million square feet. The Beckham development at Melreese "has the potential to be a mini city within a city. ... This would be a fun place to go to work every day."
Though Mas and his lobbying team have shared site plans with Miami's elected officials, the group hasn't made them public. That leaves the Overtown drawings as the only official look at a Beckham soccer stadium just days before city commissioners are slated to vote on whether to let voters decide on the project.
Meanwhile, Miami-Dade still has a $9 million deal to sell a truck depot to the Beckham group. The county agreed to waive a June 8 deadline for the Beckham group to make a $901,500 down payment for the three-acre site or forfeit the sales contract. The partnership has already made the first down payment of $450,000, which it could lose if it walks away from the $9 million contract.
With a nearby landowner suing Miami-Dade to block the no-bid county deal, Beckham lawyers argued it wasn't fair for the county to enforce the June 8 deadline with the ultimate Overtown sale in doubt. County lawyers agreed to move the deadline until a week after an appeals court rules on the suit, which was tossed out by a trial judge.
Gimenez helped referee that deadline dispute between the county lawyers and Beckham's representatives, presiding over what the mayor said was a heated discussion in his 29th floor office in April. If tensions flare again, that could get complicated for the mayor now that the Beckham group has hired one of his sons, C.J. Gimenez, as a lobbyist for the Melreese deal. The mayor said he is not recusing himself from Beckham matters at the county.
"The mayor's son is representing the soccer group for a project that directly involves the City of Miami and not Miami-Dade County government," Gimenez communications chief Myriam Marquez said in a statement Friday. "The mayor's son is registered to lobby the city. This does not involve Mayor Gimenez. There's no reason to recuse himself."
Miami-Dade also is pursuing redevelopment of the Culmer public-housing project next door to the Overtown stadium site — a project jump-started during talks between Gimenez and the Mas brothers in early 2018.
At the time, Gimenez said the Mas brothers were interested in creating restaurant and entertainment options around the stadium and inquired about Culmer. Those retail outlets could go on the ground floors of a redeveloped Culmer, if Miami-Dade could secure the funds.
The discussions came as the Mas brothers were exploring the shift to Melreese, and Gimenez said the project would proceed with or without a stadium next door.
This week, Gimenez's housing director, Michael Liu, said the Culmer redevelopment plan is moving along, with existing residents offering advice on what a new complex needs. Liu said he expects to have a draft proposal for developers by the end of July, and that funding would come from Washington, Miami-Dade and possibly the city of Miami.
Culmer "has been on our wish list" for years, Liu said. "This predates any discussion of soccer."
Liu said Miami-Dade has not had any discussions with the Mas brothers about the Culmer project since those early talks on possibly jump-starting the redevelopment. The six acres owned by the Beckham group is not part of the Culmer plan, he said.
Irby McKnight, an activist who is often called the unofficial "mayor" of Miami's Overtown neighborhood, said the shift from soccer talk to a new Culmer has been a welcome change. Some Overtown residents joined the opposition to the stadium plan, which still needed city approval for zoning and street closings.
"There are people in Overtown who are very happy about that," McKnight said of the Melreese stadium plan. "No one has expressed sadness. There were some people who didn't care. But there were people who were actively fighting against that."