Miami-Dade County

Beckham partner has a friend in Miami-Dade’s mayor and a lobbyist in the mayor’s son

While his son works as a city lobbyist for the Miami Freedom Park project, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez played golf with one of the venture’s partners, offered to fly to Japan to meet with another and volunteered to pitch a third on establishing a Miami headquarters.

“Let’s have a meeting with Mike Finney from the Beacon Council,” Gimenez wrote to David Beckham’s lead local partner, Jorge Mas, in a March 7 text message. “When are you available? You’ll really like Mike.”

The county mayor was answering a Mas question about who should “spearhead” a presentation to Marcelo Claure, the Beckham partner and former Sprint CEO who is now heading up a $5 billion Latin American investment fund for Sprint’s owner, Softbank.

Gimenez and Mas are both trying to get SoftBank’s Latin America fund to open headquarters in Miami, and the texts show new details about the mayor’s role.

The texts do not show Gimenez trying to bring SoftBank to the office complex that Claure, Mas and Beckham’s other Miami partners are trying to build next to the stadium at Melreese.

But Mas has highlighted the Freedom Park’s ability to land the kind of tech-heavy tenants that a company like SoftBank, with stakes in Uber and a commitment to artificial-intelligence investments, would bring. With Claure an original Beckham partner in his Miami stadium hunt, SoftBank would also be a natural target for Miami Freedom Park.

“We are actively pursuing potential tenants with global reputation and the ability to heighten Miami’s standing as an international tech hub,” Mas wrote in a recent Miami Herald opinion piece. In a statement released Monday, Mas struck a similar theme with SoftBank.

“The potential of the SoftBank Latin America fund establishing its headquarters in Miami would be transformational to our economy and tech community,” Mas said. “Many of our local business, governmental and educational leaders have worked closely together to showcase the great potential of our city as a tech hub of the future.”

Claure, Mas and Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son are partners with David Beckham in a venture negotiating to develop a Major League Soccer stadium, mall and office park on the city’s Melreese golf course.

Last summer, the group hired C.J. Gimenez as a city-level lobbyist for talks with Miami administrators and elected officials. In November, Miami voters approved waiving city bidding rules to let Miami negotiate a deal exclusively with Mas and the other Beckham partners.

In a statement, a Gimenez spokeswoman said C.J. Gimenez’s lobbying role for Mas in the city of Miami should not prevent the county mayor from pursuing SoftBank.

“There is no conflict,” Myriam Marquez, Gimenez’s communications director, said in a response to written questions. “C.J. Gimenez does not lobby the county and does not represent SoftBank.”

As mayor, Gimenez has retained authority over the county’s role in the Beckham venture, including trying to find a county park that Mas and partners could use for a training facility for its MLS squad. After those talks fell apart, Mas negotiated a deal to build the training facility and a stadium in Fort Lauderdale instead. Gimenez also helped resolve a 2018 dispute with county lawyers over a pending land deal for a stadium site in Overtown the Beckham group wanted for its 25,000-seat stadium.

The texts obtained by the Miami Herald through a records request to the county also reveal more details about Gimenez’s efforts to bring SoftBank to Miami-Dade at a time when the funds’ top executives are pursuing public land for the city’s newest office development.

“Great read,” Mas wrote on Feb. 23 when sending a Fast Company profile of Son and his artificial-intelligence investments with the headline “The most powerful person in Silicon Valley.” Mas continued about his fellow investor in the Miami commercial complex and stadium: “...let’s strategize on having him committed to our city.”

Gimenez replied: “How can we meet him? I’m totally into the future of IA. We have to win that race.”

Mas wrote back that he was trying to get Son to come to Miami for a visit. “Good,” Gimenez wrote. “I’ll go to Japan, too.”

Hours later, that Saturday exchange switched to planning a meet-up for the next day. “Are you game for some golf tomorrow,” Gimenez wrote Mas. “7 a.m. tee time. Biltmore.” Mas replied: “I’ll be there.”

gimenez mas text golf .jpg
An image of a Feb. 25, 2019 text exchange between Jorge Mas, the MasTec chairman and lead partner for David Beckham’s stadium venture in Miami, and Carlos Gimenez, the mayor of Miami-Dade County.

The three months of texts between Mas and the county mayor highlight the close relationship between the two Cuban-Americans who grew up in Miami. “Alcalde,” Mas texted Gimenez on March 12, “hope you are having a good me when you have a couple of minutes..un abrazo... Jorge.”

There’s plenty of golf talk in the texts. Mas wrote in a March 7 exchange with Gimenez about the Claure presentation that “my putt just broke right again.” Gimenez responded to the reference to a prior golf outing and a problematic Biltmore hole: “By the way, the following week I eagled 18.” Mas told him: “You own that hole!!”

The texts flesh out what was apparent from Gimenez’s public calendar: The mayor met multiple times with Mas and had all but confirmed the two were in talks about SoftBank’s coming to Miami. When asked about a Mas meeting in March, Gimenez told the Miami Herald he was trying to recruit some “major funds” to Miami-Dade and that the Miami Freedom complex “may be the place” for them.

With the Beckham group still needing the city commission’s approval to secure its stadium agreement, any sort of big SoftBank deal would have to involve another office destination for at least several years. The Miami stadium plans are so far behind that the Beckham group recently announced plans to play their debut 2020 season, and the one after that, in a stadium on the grounds of the planned Fort Lauderdale training facility.

For the Beckham soccer deal, Gimenez is pointing to past rulings by the Ethics Commission that he says allow him to talk about county business with his son’s city clients.

Last year, he recused himself from decisions related to a halfway house son Julio Gimenez was helping pitch to the county’s Corrections Department. In 2017, the mayor recused himself from talks involving a steel plant Julio and partners want to build on county land in Homestead.

After being involved in closed-door talks in 2014 with the Trump Organization about managing a county golf course, Gimenez in 2015 publicly recused himself from the decision after the negotiations became public. He cited C.J. Gimenez’s role as a lobbyist for Donald Trump in Doral, home to a large Trump resort. The Crandon Park deal fizzled months before Trump, a Gimenez campaign donor, launched his 2016 presidential campaign

For a new Amazon warehouse, private-jet terminals and other new business operations, Miami-Dade has granted millions of dollars to cover development costs like sewer hook-ups and roads. Gimenez’s office said the mayor has not discussed potential economic-incentives for the Freedom Park project.

“There has been no discussion of economic development incentives for the proposed Miami Freedom Park, which is a project in the City of Miami,” the mayor’s office said in response to written questions. “As it does with all potential companies that want to move to Miami-Dade County, Beacon Council has met with SoftBank but we have no specifics.”

A Beacon Council representative was not available for comment Monday. The mayor’s office said Gimenez and Beacon Council representatives met with Mas and Claure on the afternoon of March 15 at the Coral Gables headquarters of MasTec, the global infrastructure firm run by Mas and his brother, Jose, the company’s CEO and another Beckham partner.

Claure, who launched the cellphone company Brightstar in Miami in 1997, already has a downtown office overlooking Biscayne Bay and a home in Miami Beach. SoftBank recently announced the Latin America fund he oversees plans a Miami presence, but it’s not known how significant that office will be. On April 9, the company announced two fund executives would be working out of Miami.

Disclosure documents filed by Mas list him as the sole owner of the corporate entity that would actually lease the Melreese land and be in control of the property that would produce one of Miami’s largest shopping centers and office complexes. Beckham, Claure, Son and the Mases are listed as owners of the entity that would run the MLS stadium.

An attorney for Mas’ corporation, Miami Freedom Park LLC, told the Herald in January that the other investors in the soccer team, including Beckham, Claure, Son and Jose’s brother Jorge Mas, have an interest in Miami Freedom Park, and that Mas is contractually bound to include fellow investors in the deal.

Documents filed by the partnership show the stadium only producing about 11 cents for every dollar of revenue produced by the proposed commercial park, with the mall, offices and a hotel accounting for much of the business activity there. The forecasts released last summer showed Miami Freedom Park generating more than $400 million a year, and paying Miami at least $3.5 million in annual rent plus another $44 million in taxes to the city, county and state.

The Mas brothers shifted Beckham’s partners to Melreese shortly after signing on as the venture’s first local investors in the fall of 2017. That was after Jorge Mas tried but failed to buy the Miami Marlins, a would-be deal that brought him behind closed doors with a longtime Gimenez foe, former Marlins president David Samson.

Samson and owner Jeffrey Loria ended up signing a $1.2 billion deal with a partnership that included Derek Jeter. The time Mas spent with Samson apparently did not endear him to the former Marlins executive.

“What a piece of _____” Mas texted to Gimenez on Dec. 18 with a Deadspin article describing Samson’s taunting a party of sports fans with the Marlins sales price. The headline quoted Samson’s infamous gibe to the rowdy crowd: “$1.2 billion. F--- you.”

“This is unbelievable!!” Mas wrote.

Gimenez, who opposed the tax-funded Marlins Park deal before becoming mayor, wrote back with an equally sanitized reply: “Not unbelievable. He has always been and always will be a piece of ----.”

Samson was running the Boston Marathon Monday. Reached by phone on Mile 14, he said his response should be recorded as “a grunt of not caring.”

Miami Herald staff writer Joey Flechas contributed to this report.