Retired soccer star David Beckham was surrounded by journalists and fans outside the voting precinct in Overtown on Tuesday as he played an unfamiliar sport: politics.
He glad-handed and posed for pictures under a balmy afternoon sun, joined by partner and Miami businessman Jorge Mas to urge voters to say yes to a ballot measure that could clear the path for a $1 billion stadium and commercial complex that would serve as a home for the city’s upcoming Major League Soccer team.
Beckham and Mas want voters to vote yes on a ballot question asking voters if the City Commission should negotiate a no-bid lease with the team owners for 73 acres of Melreese golf course, owned by the city, so the team could build 1 million square feet of office, retail and commercial space, 750 hotel rooms, a parking structure with 20 acres of soccer fields on the roof and a 25,000-seat soccer stadium.
The pair visited several polling places in Miami and addressed reporters outside the Culmer Community Service Center in Overtown, not far from land team owners purchased to build a stadium before Mas joined the ownership group and steered the plans away from Overtown. Because the deal for Melreese would require the city to waive its competitive bidding law, voters must approve the exception.
Even though Beckham was clearly visiting polls in support of the plan, he told reporters he prefers to stick to talking about the sport he loves.
“I always speak from the heart, and I always speak about what I know,” Beckham told reporters. “Football is what I know.”
Mas reiterated a list of estimated public benefits attached to the construction of Miami Freedom Park, including about $40 million in new tax revenue to local and state governments, a new 58-acre public park next to the soccer complex and at least $3.6 million in annual rent payments to the city.
Generally, locals were simply happy to see Beckham and pose for pictures with him.
Even if the referendum passes and the city can negotiate a lease, that agreement would still require approval by four of five city commissioners.
On Tuesday, Mas was confident the measure would be passed by voters — but he also maintained that the current plan is the only option on the table right now.
“No plan B. This is it,” he said.
The plan has ignited controversy among skeptical residents who believe the proposal is a land grab for a lucrative new mall and hotel next to the airport that happens to include a stadium. The referendum has sparked two lawsuits and a complaint with county ethics officials. The lawsuits focus on the city’s attempt to circumvent public bidding requirements for the stadium deal, while the ethics complaint alleges Mas and Beckham failed to register as lobbyists when they spoke to commissioners about the proposal in July.
On Tuesday, a lawyer for an anti-stadium group sent a letter to the county elections department complaining of some of the campaigning going on outside the polls. According to a letter from an attorney representing Save Our Green Space, the group complained that pro-stadium campaigners were illegally handing out goodie bags that included small orange soccer balls outside the precinct.