Hours before the Miami City Commission was set to vote on a proposal from David Beckham and his partners to build a commercial and soccer stadium complex on a municipal golf course near Miami International Airport, an attorney filed a lawsuit in an attempt to derail the plan.
The suit, filed early Wednesday by attorney William Douglas Muir in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court, alleges Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, City Manager Emilio Gonzalez and the five-member City Commission have not followed city law while considering the Beckham group’s proposal to lease 73 acres of Melreese Country Club for a large commercial and soccer stadium complex. The group, led locally by MasTec executive Jorge Mas, wants to build a stadium for Miami’s future Major League Soccer franchise.
Wednesday afternoon, Miami’s elected officials are expected to vote on whether to hold a referendum on a preliminary framework for the plan. The referendum would ask voters to decide whether the city should change its competitive bidding laws to negotiate a no-bid lease with Miami Freedom Park, LLC, the corporate entity representing the Beckham soccer group. Wednesday’s meeting was scheduled after an initial vote last Thursday was postponed when Commissioner Ken Russell wanted to negotiate certain terms of the deal.
In his complaint, Muir contends the city is flouting its own competitive bidding laws, running an end-around a requirement to hold an open bid for similar projects when it receives an unsolicited proposal for using public land for private development.
“I don’t think that [the commission] speaking of a waiver does anything to keep them from having to follow the requirements,” Muir told the Miami Herald Wednesday morning. “The law right now is on the books as it is, and they shouldn’t be negotiating with a monopoly group.”
“We look forward to addressing the merits in court,” said the city’s attorney, Victoria Mendez.
Although the case was quickly assigned to a judge, Reemberto Diaz, a hearing had not yet been scheduled by the commission’s 10 a.m. start time. But at 1:30 p.m., as the commission was breaking for an afternoon recess and appeared to be nearing a vote, Muir told the Herald a one-hour court hearing had been set for next Tuesday, July 24, at 10 a.m.
Muir accuses the city of failing to properly notify the public of details of the proposal, echoing critics frustrated by the fast-moving proposal leading up to the commission vote. Muir said Mas has lobbied city commissioners “with minimal transparency” in an effort to move his proposal along with little vetting and public input.
“There’s been so little public input, so little transparency in the process, so much confusion, even by our legislators where the commission isn’t getting the information from the city manager and city attorney,” Muir said.
Muir commented during last week’s public hearing, making those same points.
The lawsuit also asks the court to compel the city to hold a public comment period at Wednesday’s meeting. The city decided at last week’s meeting that after hours of public testimony from opponents and proponents, it would not hold any more public comment Wednesday — even though some terms of the preliminary deal have been revised.
Muir told the Herald he has no personal stake in the matter, other than as a lifelong Miami resident. He said he’s simply not convinced the city is getting a good deal.
“I think the financials look very bad, even if the project ends up being an attractive one that people enjoy going to,” Muir said. “The city needs to make a lot of investments in the future, and tying up this valuable asset at a lowball number for 99 years is definitely going to hurt the city financially, and keep it from being able to invest in things like infrastructure, environmental resilience efforts, affordable housing.”
On Monday, Mas told the Miami Herald Editorial Board that the process has been rushed because he is working on a tight timeline set by MLS.
Read the full complaint below: