Update: Overnight, Commissioner Ken Russell told the Miami Herald he was still undecided after he left an hours-long meeting with Jorge Mas that extended past midnight. Russell clarified terms of the deal that were discussed during this meeting. This article has been updated to reflect those clarifications.
The group behind the effort to build a large commercial center and Major League Soccer stadium on Miami’s only municipal golf course has amended its proposal in advance of a pivotal City Commission vote Wednesday, with concessions including more money for the city in response to criticisms of an earlier proposal.
But the swing vote on the deal who pushed to delay this vote last week, Commissioner Ken Russell, is not yet satisfied with the terms offered by soccer group Tuesday.
David Beckham and local partner Jorge Mas have offered an updated set of terms for their proposal to redevelop Melreese Country Club into a sprawling retail, restaurant, office, hotel and stadium complex, along with public soccer fields and a new 58-acre public park. Miami commissioners on Wednesday will consider holding a referendum in November to ask voters if the city should change its competitive bidding laws to negotiate a no-bid deal with the Beckham group to lease 73 acres of the property for up to 99 years.
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Critics of the deal have taken aim at how the Beckham group and the city took months to develop the initial framework of the deal and then presented it to the public only days before a commission vote. But again this week, a summary of the updated terms was released by the city Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before Wednesday’s meeting, set to start at 10 a.m. The agenda was published online overnight.
An initial vote on Thursday was postponed after Commissioner Ken Russell pushed to get more concessions from the Beckham group. Working under the corporation Miami Freedom Park LLC, the team owners tweaked their offer and submitted a new term sheet to the city on Tuesday.
Mas met with Russell on Tuesday evening for a discussion that stretched late in the night. Early Wednesday, Russell told the Miami Herald he had not received all of the concessions he demanded and wants to continue the discussion at Wednesday’s meeting.
“Unfortunately so far, they have not agreed to ensure that all on-site employees would receive a living wage,” Russell said. “I look forward to continuing the discussion on the dais.”
The term sheet, first published Tuesday evening by local blogger and radio host Grant Stern, includes the following updated provisions:
▪ A new calculation for lease payment to the city: The city would receive the greater of fair market value for the leased land as determined by two independent appraisers, or 5 percent of gross rent revenue collected from tenants at the site. The Beckham group would be required to pay a minimum annual rent of $3.5 million.
▪ No city funding for cleaning up toxic soil: The group states that it “will be responsible for all environmental remediation of the property.” The plan for the cleanup will be developed by the ownership group, which estimates cleanup will cost about $35 million.
▪ Money for Baywalk and Riverwalk: The group would give the city $5 million to finish the Baywalk and Riverwalk. That’s in addition to a new 58-acre park, fully remediated and funded by ownership group. That park would be finished before a certificate of occupancy is issued for the stadium. The group would also give to the city $20 million in equal annual installments over 30 years for parks and green space, to be used at the city’s discretion.
▪ Living wage for employees at complex: The Beckham group and its affiliates would pay hourly employees with no health benefits no less than $15 an hour. Hourly employees with health insurance would be paid no less than $13.19 an hour. In addition, the group is negotiating a labor peace agreement with the local hotel union. This provision does not cover all employees at the complex, which is why it remains a sticking point for Russell.
▪ Capital transaction fee: The group will pay the city 1 percent of gross proceeds received by the ownership from any capital transactions on the site. That means if any of the owners’ interests under the lease are sold, the city would get 1 percent of gross proceeds from that sale.
▪ No net loss in park space: The group would follow the city’s policy and replace lost park land elsewhere in the city before any of the buildings in the complex is issued a certificate of occupancy.
▪ First Tee can stay: The youth golf and empowerment program First Tee Miami would have a home at the property at a driving range in the leased portion of the property.
Read the whole term sheet below.
Russell said the late night session, which included his staff, Mas, Mayor Francis Suarez and city administrators, largely focused on his desire for a living wage for all employees at the complex. That demand has yet to be met.
“Much of our discussion centered on a $15 living wage for all on-site employees,” Russell said. “I believe that a potential project of this magnitude on city property should help solve our income inequality crisis in Miami and not add to it.”
On Wednesday, for the second time in two weeks, the melodrama of Miami City Hall will set the stage for a pivotal commission vote that could create or a reject a referendum on the use of Melreese — a question driven by Beckham’s desire to build a soccer stadium for his future Major League Soccer franchise and his partners’ interest in developing the public land into a potentially lucrative commercial center.
The meeting was scheduled at the conclusion of Thursday’s long-winded hearing, where Russell made clear his vote could kill or save the initiative. Uncomfortable with the initial framework for the deal, Russell pushed for the delay to get more concessions from the Beckham team.
Even though some of those concessions have now been submitted to the city, no public comment will be heard at Wednesday’s meeting.
The Beckham group has been criticized for debuting a radically re-envisioned Melreese park, renamed Miami Freedom Park, only days before Thursday’s meeting. The clumsy rollout doomed the group’s hopes for approval last week, instead fueling intense skepticism and confusion over key elements of the plan.
What is clear is that Mas is proposing to lease public land for a large private, for-profit development that includes a stadium. The Beckham group wants to enter into a lease of up to 99 years with the city for the complex, which they’re calling Miami Freedom Park.
Soccer is only a small piece of the proposal. On 131 acres of publicly owned Melreese, a 25,000-seat stadium and several public soccer fields on the deck of a covered parking lot are two elements of a larger 73-acre real estate deal that would see a massive retail, restaurant, hotel and office development built on the golf course, along with a 58-acre public park.
Wednesday’s meeting comes after Thursday’s lengthy hearing where dozens of opponents and proponents shared their opinions of the deal at City Hall.
Critics either outright opposed redeveloping Melreese or blasted facets of the proposal, which itself was called into question after Mas and his team revealed pieces of the plan only a few days before the meeting. The Beckham group took so long to unveil its vision that the details of the proposal printed in Thursday’s meeting agenda were moot days before the meeting, when Mas released updated numbers.
Those numbers were never updated in the meeting material because changes to the agenda would’ve allowed commissioners — likely those in opposition — to invoke a city rule that requires the meeting to be rescheduled to allow enough time to review the changes. A rescheduled meeting could’ve derailed the spectacle by the Beckham group and soccer boosters — a pro-soccer barbecue and rally outside and an appearance by Beckham, his first before an elected body in the five years he’s tried to field a Miami MLS team.