David Beckham talks about his plans of developing a stadium in Overtown
Could David Beckham reverse course again and revive plans for a soccer stadium in Overtown?
Beckham’s lead local partner, MasTec chairman Jorge Mas, told county officials on Monday that the soccer group planned to pay $9 million to close on three acres of Miami-Dade land in the Overtown neighborhood and ask Miami for permits to build a stadium there. Overtown was the Beckham pick for a Miami Major League Soccer stadium until early 2018 when the partners switched to a larger proposal on Miami’s Melreese golf course. That 73-acre site still requires city approval of a multi-decade lease.
“He has this bird in the hand,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said of the Overtown property after meeting with Mas on Monday. “He’s going to close on the property. And he’s going to start [requesting] permits to build a stadium.”
Mas has previously called the Overtown site a backup option if Melreese falls through, even though he has also described it as too cramped for the kind of entertainment and shopping destination he wants to create next to MLS games at Melreese. A Mas spokeswoman had no immediate comment Tuesday.
Gimenez said Mas faces MLS deadlines to have permits for a Miami stadium, and that the Overtown land gives him an avenue for complying with that requirement as city talks drag on for the mall, office complex, hotel and stadium the partners want to build at Melreese.
The move means the Beckham group would be pursuing plans for soccer stadiums at three sites at the same time. The partnership already has a deal with Fort Lauderdale to build a temporary stadium for the franchise’s debut season in 2020, but the plan is to move to Miami once an MLS permanent stadium is constructed there.
After the Florida Supreme Court last week refused to hear an appeal challenging the 2017 no-bid deal that allowed the Beckham group to put the county land under contract, the stadium partners had a week to decide whether they wanted to keep the sales agreement alive with a $900,000 installment payment.
Mas told Gimenez the partners didn’t want to delay the transaction, and wanted to pay the remaining $8.5 million owed on the land in order to purchase it outright from the county. Miami-Dade had agreed to delay required payments until the conclusion of the court fight by wealthy activist Bruce Matheson, and the Beckham group now has 30 days to buy the Overtown land after notifying Miami-Dade of the intent to close the deal.
While purchasing the three-acre county lot would complete the acquisition of a stadium site for Beckham, it also would give Mas and partners nine acres in a Miami neighborhood that’s increasingly popular with developers.
Gimenez said he and Mas discussed other options for the property, including affordable housing. He said a change in the intended use of the property would require a vote by the county commission to alter the terms of the original no-bid deal.
“My druthers would be that it comes back as something that creates a lot more jobs than even a soccer stadium,” Gimenez said. “If he builds a stadium, that’s fine. But if it’s something else, like a technology park, that would be OK.”
Gimenez has met with Beckham partner Marcelo Claure about a potential Miami headquarters for the $5 billion Latin American hedge fund that Claure runs for his employer, SoftBank.
The Beckham group employs one of Gimenez’s sons, C.J. Gimenez, as a lobbyist in the city of Miami for the Melreese proposal. Gimenez said his son’s employment by the Beckham group does not prevent him from leading the county’s talks with the Beckham group for other deals tied to the MLS venture.
“My son is being paid as a lobbyist to deal with the city of Miami,” Gimenez said. “It has nothing to do with Miami-Dade County.”
On Tuesday, Pablo Alvarez, a MasTec lawyer working on the soccer venture, sent a letter to Deputy Mayor Jack Osterholt of holding company 0101 Miami Properties LLC’s “election to proceed with closing and purchase of the Property.”
The original 2017 deal with Miami-Dade gives the Beckham partners the options to pay just $5 million at closing, and then pay $1 million a year plus interest until the balance is paid. The county agreed to a $500,000 rebate on the purchase price to clean up environmental issues at the property, making the actual purchase price closer to $8.5 million.
When commissioners voted on the contract in 2017, the Beckham group had touted Overtown’s potential as the future home of MLS. The nine-acre site wasn’t large enough for a stadium and a parking garage, and Beckham’s representatives unveiled a plan to get fans to “march to the match” by using a nearby Metrorail station and garages for getting close to the MLS venue.
The 2017 contract states a project built on the land “shall include a sports stadium.” It also requires the buyer to spend at least $175 million developing the property, and create 50 jobs there within five years. The Beckham group would need to pay more than $1 million a year in damages if those jobs aren’t created, under the terms of the deal.
Commissioner Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson, who represents Overtown, said she would welcome an alternative plan for the site now that the stadium option seems “down the drain.”
“I would love for them to do some affordable housing there,” Edmonson said. “If it’s affordable housing, I’m game.”
Miami-Dade is pursuing a redevelopment of the nearby Culmer housing complex, which sits across the street from the six acres of private land the Beckham group purchased in 2016. Mas has said he’s interested in doing something “innovative” with the land in connection with the redevelopment.
In Miami, the Inter Miami group faces a tough political hurdle at the City Commission. The team needs four of five commissioners to approve a 99-year lease for Mas and his partners to build Miami Freedom Park, a $1 billion complex with an office park, hotel, soccer stadium and public park on city-owned Melreese golf course.
Two commissioners are expected to vote against the lease. Manolo Reyes has maintained he is a firm no vote on the deal. Wilfredo “Willy” Gort, whose district includes Melreese, has been openly critical of the proposal and is expected to oppose it. Gort, however, is in his final months in office before term limits require him to vacate his seat in November. His open seat could factor into the future of the Beckham plan and make Miami Freedom Park a significant election issue this year.
Commissioners have tried to get ahead of the issue by demanding the administration bring a lease to a commission vote by September, before the municipal election. The broad framework of the deal was approved by voters in November.
A full lease has yet to be negotiated. Commissioners have delayed the selection of an outside consultant to help administrators negotiate a lease. The delay stems from some commissioners’ apprehensions about hiring a law firm that either directly does business in Cuba or provides clients with advice on how to navigate U.S.-Cuba relations.
City commissioners are expected to consider choosing a consultant Thursday.
In a statement on the planned Overtown purchase, Mas said Melreese remains the future home of Beckham’s MLS franchise. “We remain fully committed to bringing Major League Soccer to the City of Miami and creating Miami Freedom Park,” he said.
The statement did not attempt to reconcile the 2017 agreement’s requirements for a stadium in Overtown with the continued effort to build the same stadium at Melreese. “We will also close on the purchase of the Overtown property,” Mas said, “and honor our commitment with Miami-Dade County as per our July 2017 agreement.”