Miami-Dade County

Miami mayor’s scrutiny of Melreese causing controversy amid Beckham stadium talks

Beckham group releases first look at proposed stadium complex

Jorge Mas, a partner with David Beckham in his effort to launch a Miami Major League Soccer franchise, released images of a proposed soccer complex near Miami International Airport in July 2018.
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Jorge Mas, a partner with David Beckham in his effort to launch a Miami Major League Soccer franchise, released images of a proposed soccer complex near Miami International Airport in July 2018.

In the shadow of negotiations to develop a mall, office park and soccer stadium complex on Miami’s only city-owned golf course, a new fracas is brewing over the Melreese Country Club and multiple businesses that list their principal address there.

A subplot in the drama swirling around David Beckham’s multi-year pursuit of a Miami Major League Soccer franchise involves the future of The First Tee, a nonprofit that offers youths golf instruction, tutoring and mentorship at Melreese. The program could be displaced or at least drastically altered by Miami Freedom Park, the proposed $1 billion stadium and commercial development currently under lease negotiation.

Mayor Francis Suarez, a vocal supporter of Miami Freedom Park, wants to force the disclosure of financial documents of more than a dozen corporations that use or have used Melreese as their principal business address at 1802 NW 37th Ave. — including The First Tee. The city has a contract with only one entity, Delucca Enterprises, named after proprietor Charles Delucca III.

The mayor is sponsoring a resolution that — if approved by the City Commission — would direct the city’s attorneys and administrators to take action against any entities doing business on public property without authorization. Suarez wants administrators to see if this is happening on other city properties, though Melreese is specifically named in his resolution. The Daily Business Review first reported on the resolution.

The item, scheduled for Thursday’s commission meeting, amounts to a lawsuit threat — the backup documents attached to the resolution include a draft complaint that names Delucca Enterprises and 14 other corporations, including a company that does business as The First Tee, according to state business filings. Two other First Tee entities, First Tee of Miami-Dade Foundation Inc. and The First Tee of Miami-Dade Inc., would be given an extra 30 days to produce requested financial documents. The draft lawsuit threatens to evict all of the unauthorized companies.

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A scene from Miami’s Melreese golf course, city land where David Beckham and partners want to build a soccer stadium and commercial complex. PATRICK FARRELL Miami Herald File

Delucca’s attorney says it has responded to the city’s request for information on the list of companies — some of which are directly tied to the operation of the golf course and The First Tee, others that dissolved years ago.

“Delucca Enterprises had previously addressed the City’s questions about most, if not all, of the companies referenced in the proposed resolution,” wrote Thomas Korge, Delucca’s attorney.

Suarez has drawn scrutiny since the resolution became public, with critics blasting the mayor for sponsoring an item that takes aim at The First Tee. Suarez noted that First Tee has more time to produce records than the other companies. He defended the resolution, insisting the city has a right to demand that any entity doing private business on public property open its books for city administrators.

“I think our commission deserves to know what’s going on on our property,” Suarez told the Miami Herald.

The city has not provided anything that suggests any of the entities have benefited or profited by using Melreese as their address, though detailed financial records have not been released for the city’s review.

In letters to Delucca last year, the city demanded budgets, ledgers, balance sheets, payroll records, tax returns and other financial paperwork for each of the companies. In multiple responses, Delucca Enterprises did not attach all of the requested documents. Korge wrote that some of the entities no longer exist, some never engaged in any business activity and some operate under the umbrella of Delucca Industries, with their accounting incorporated into Delucca Enterprises’ financial reports to the city.

The list of 15 corporations named in the draft lawsuit attached to Suarez’s resolution include some oddities. Tina’s Touch was a golf course consultancy that Korge said never opened for business. Delucca’s had planned to operate the company in West Palm Beach before abandoning the venture. Another corporation, Bunkers Inc., is owned by Delucca and has purchased used golf balls for resale at Melreese’s pro shop or for use on the driving range. Korge wrote that working through another company would cost the city more money.

An attorney whose law practice was listed among the unauthorized entities, Carlos Rodriguez, told Miami New Times that he used the address only for mailing purposes because he provided services for The First Tee.

Korge also noted that the Bunkers issue was raised and explained in a May 2017 audit conducted by the city’s independent auditor general. Delucca also rebuffed the findings in that audit, which got attention in the months before the Miami Freedom Park plan was released last summer.

Suarez’s resolution comes at a time when the future of Melreese is at a crossroads. Commissioners are expected to vote on a lease to build Miami Freedom Park this year. Negotiations are under way and will likely intensify if commissioners approve hiring outside consultants during a separate vote Thursday. Even if Miami Freedom Park never happens, at least one commissioner has made it clear he wants to redevelop Melreese into a shopping center. Joe Carollo has floated the mall concept ever since Melreese first entered the picture as a possibility for the soccer stadium in March 2018.

On July 17, the day before a crucial City Commission vote on whether to hold a referendum on whether to negotiate the deal for Miami Freedom Park, the city’s director of real estate management emailed Delucca Enterprises requesting specific financial documents for multiple companies the city had found used Melreese’s address. The real estate director, Daniel Rotenberg, later followed up with more companies. Delucca corresponded multiple times with the city, explaining the purpose and history of several entities but not providing specific documentation.

“The response was insufficient in their explanation,” read a statement provided by Miami’s administration.

In November, 60 percent of voters endorsed the framework of the Miami Freedom Park deal. Now, the city is negotiating terms of a 99-year lease with the team. The Beckham group’s managing partner, MasTec chairman Jorge Mas, has said he would welcome The First Tee at a golf entertainment facility, like a Top Golf, at Miami Freedom Park. Separately, Suarez offered to help work out a deal to relocate The First Tee to Miami Springs should the stadium complex be built.

It is unclear if The First Tee’s future will be addressed in the upcoming lease.

Joey Flechas covers government and public affairs in the city of Miami for the Herald, ranging from votes at City Hall to neighborhood news. He won a Sunshine State award for revealing a Miami Beach political candidate’s ties to an illegal campaign donation. He attended the University of Florida.