This is one of two articles examining the ballot question Miami voters will answer on the proposal for Miami Freedom Park. Read the other one here.
You’ve probably seen the pink-on-black logo for David Beckham’s Miami soccer team, the fancy renderings of “Miami Freedom Park” and the political ads talking about new jobs and increased tax revenue.
They’re all related to a question for Miami voters on the Nov. 6 ballot about a plan to give Beckham’s new MLS team a permanent home on what is now a city-owned golf course near Miami International Airport.
Given the hype surrounding the vote, it might seem like Miami voters are deciding on the details of a final deal to build a stadium where Beckham’s expansion team, Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami, will play. That’s not the case.
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Voters are being asked if the city should allow Beckham and his partners to skip the usual competitive bidding process and negotiate a 99-year lease for about 73 acres of Melreese golf course.
Some of the numbers being thrown around — a 1 percent capital transaction fee, $35 million to clean up toxic waste — are not explained in the ballot measure. Those are details that city officials will deal with if voters authorize them to negotiate with the Beckham ownership team. The numbers could change; they are only a starting point for the negotiations.
The question for voters is whether to waive the city law that governs private use of public land. That law says that if a private entity wants to lease city-owned land, the city must solicit competitive bids in order to get the best deal for the taxpayers.
Beckham and his partners, known formally as Miami Freedom Park LLC, essentially have submitted an unsolicited bid to use the Melreese land for profitable purposes — for a privately financed $1 billion retail, office, hotel and stadium complex, of which the stadium is only a small part — and to pay a minimum of $3.6 million in annual rent for use of the land. The property would include about 1 million square feet of office, retail and commercial space, a minimum of 750 hotel rooms and a 58-acre public park. On-site employees would be paid a living wage.
A yes vote is for people who want to go with that option.
A no vote might be by someone who wants to see what other private developers might propose for that property or who doesn’t want to vary from the usual competitive bidding process. Or for someone who wants to leave the land as it is, a publicly owned but privately operated golf course that includes a popular golf and mentoring program for kids, First Tee Miami.
Some of the other conditions are from a term sheet that Miami Freedom Park hashed out with the city before the commission voted to place the referendum on the ballot. The proposed terms for lease were released publicly only hours before the vote to place the question on the ballot, provoking an outcry from critics who complained the process was too hastily thrown together.
These provisions are not necessarily the final terms. They reflect what Miami Freedom Park is proposing if voters approve the ballot question and the city opens negotiations.
▪The youth golf and empowerment program run at Melreese, First Tee Miami, would have a home at the property at a driving range in the leased portion of the property. Possible displacement of First Tee spurred passionate opposition to the plan before commissioners voted to place the referendum on the ballot in July.
▪The ownership group states that it “will be responsible for all environmental remediation of the property.” The plan for the cleanup of contaminated soil will be developed by the ownership, which estimates cleanup will cost about $35 million.
▪Owners pledge to give the city $5 million to finish Miami’s Baywalk and Riverwalk.
▪The owners would follow city law and replace lost park land elsewhere in the city before any of the buildings in the complex is issued a certificate of occupancy.
▪ Owners 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.
The Miami Freedom Park group argues that the complex would bring other benefits to the city and its residents: $44 million in additional taxes to the city, county and state; $20 million for parks in the city of Miami, new jobs in the complex and public soccer fields.
As with any public land deal in Miami, there are skeptics and outright opposition to the proposed terms. One sticking point for some: The condition of the soil under Melreese.
The golf course sits on toxic ash dumped there from an old municipal incinerator decades ago, an environmental issue that would need to be addressed if the site is redeveloped. Team owners are also agreeing to assume responsibility for cleaning up the toxic soil under the golf course. Mas said the group has a budget of $35 million for the cleanup, which consultants working for him and independent of the ownership have said is a reasonable, conservative figure. Critics say the cost could climb much higher and either derail the project or leave taxpayers holding the bag.
Even if voters approve, and the administration negotiates a lease, the agreement would still have a significant political hurdle to clear: Four of five city commissioners would need to approve the lease. In July, three voted to place the referendum on the November ballot — commissioners Keon Hardemon, Ken Russell and Joe Carollo. Commissioners Manolo Reyes and Willy Gort, who represents the district that includes Melreese, opposed it.
If most voters say “no,” it’s unclear what would happen next for Beckham and his partners.
Jorge Mas, the partner who frequently speaks for the group, said if the referendum fails, “there is no plan B.” He told a reporter he will not fall back on land the team owns or has a contract to buy in Overtown.
“I’m not going back to Overtown. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror,” he said. “It’s not a good idea for the community.”
The ownership team has spent $414,014 on political advertisements, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. The ads were purchased through a political committee, Miami Freedom Park Political Committee, which has been funded exclusively by team owners, who include Beckham; Mas and his brother Jose, both executives of Miami-based infrastructure giant MasTec.; Sprint chairman Marcelo Claure; and SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son.
The group has faced criticism for pushing the proposal to a commission vote so fast that the public didn’t have enough time to analyze details. Mas, who entered the picture only a year ago and brought the other partners with him, argues he has had to move rapidly because of pressure from the league. He maintains if the city were to go through a bidding process, that could take years and MLS — which has already waited a long time — doesn’t want to wait any longer.
“We don’t have the luxury of time,” he said. “We’re kicking off in March 2020.” Previous delays have made MLS wary. The Inter Miami expansion agreement requires permits for the stadium site by November 2019.
Throughout the process, Mas has acknowledged that Miamians may be suspicious when it comes to stadiums on public land. And they certainly are — the public financing package that paid for the construction of Marlins Park left taxpayers on the hook for nearly $2 billion in loan payments.
“I understand and recognize that there is extreme skepticism in our community, especially after the failed Jeffrey Loria deal,” Mas said, referring to the former Miami Marlins owner who has refused to share profits from the sale of the team with Miami taxpayers. “That’s left a very significant bad taste in many peoples’ mouths.”
Voters in the city of Miami will see the following question on their ballot:
Shall Miami’s Charter be amended authorizing City to negotiate, execute 99-year lease with Miami Freedom Park LLC, for approximately 73 acres of City land, waiving bidding, converting Melreese Country Club (1400 Northwest 37 Avenue) at no cost to City to:
▪ soccer stadium;
▪ minimum 1,000,000 square feet office, retail, commercial uses;
▪ minimum 750 hotel rooms;
▪ living wage for on-site employees;
▪$3,577,365.00 minimum annual rent;
▪ $20,000,000.00 for 58-acre public park or other green space?