Beckham Miami group will fund relocation of youth golf program from Melreese
David Beckham’s effort to build a stadium for Miami’s upcoming Major League Soccer team attracted its most organized opposition from a group of adults and kids wearing orange shirts, the color of the nonprofit youth golf program known as The First Tee.
Based at Miami’s city-owned Melreese golf course, The First Tee was always going to change or be moved off Melreese if the city allowed Beckham and his local partner, Jorge Mas, to develop a sprawling commercial and soccer stadium complex on the course.
Now, the operators of The First Tee have reached an agreement with Mas to move The First Tee to a new location, possibly Miami Lakes. Mas, managing owner of Miami’s planned MLS team Inter Miami, has agreed to pay about $3 million for the relocation of the program. Mas and Charles De Lucca III, owner of the company that operates Melreese under a city contract, signed the new agreement Friday.
Mas and De Lucca announced the deal at a press conference Tuesday morning at Melreese, 1802 NW 37th Ave. De Lucca, who has remained quiet since Melreese was first considered as a site for the Beckham team’s stadium, told reporters this was the best outcome considering the effort to replace the golf course with Miami Freedom Park, a $1 billion office park, hotel, mall and 25,000-seat stadium.
“If it’s going to happen, I don’t think there’s anybody better in our community to take this place over. You know they’re going to do a great job,” he said. “And we’re going to be present in this community. We’re not leaving. We’re going to be present in the parks, in the schools. So The First Tee will live, and only better.”
It is unclear where or when the program will move. The De Lucca family declined to comment on negotiations with other locations. Sources familiar with the conversations say it could be Shula’s Golf Club in Miami Lakes.
The future of The First Tee had remained unclear as voters in November approved the framework of a deal that would allow Mas to develop Miami Freedom Park. Mas had previously said he envisioned the program being housed in a golf entertainment facility in the complex. Under their new agreement, Mas and De Lucca said the whole First Tee program will be moved to a new golf course.
“The First Tee is important because it’s not just about golf,” Mas said. “I think they do tremendous work. It’s my desire that more young men and women can participate in this program. It’s really about life skills.”
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has advocated for Mas and Inter Miami to come up with a plan for First Tee. During the debate over whether Miami voters should decide if the city should negotiate a lease for the complex, Suarez reached out to the city of Miami Springs to discuss the possibility of moving The First Tee to its municipal golf course.
Since then, he said he’s told Mas that he considered a plan to accommodate The First Tee a condition of his support for the Miami Freedom Park plan. The mayor hosted De Lucca and Mas in his City Hall office as they signed the new agreement Friday.
“It was always necessary to me that they were taken care of,” he said.
Suarez has also scrutinized De Lucca after city officials questioned why multiple corporations list Melreese as their business address even though the city has a contract with only one entity, De Lucca Enterprises. In April, the mayor sponsored a resolution that would force De Lucca to disclose financial documents for than a dozen corporations that list Melreese as their business address.
The resolution, which would authorize the city to take legal action against De Lucca, has been deferred several times. On Tuesday, Suarez said the city has been “making progress” on the matter because De Lucca has been submitting sworn affidavits with details about the corporations.
The new First Tee deal tees up the next step for the Miami Freedom Park effort, the negotiation of a 99-year lease that would allow Mas to develop the complex. On Thursday, commissioners directed City Attorney Victoria Méndez to select one of three law firms to assist the city in the negotiations. Administrators expect a firm to be selected this week and talks to begin immediately.
With a plan for The First Tee in place, Mas might have more political capital with commissioners who want to vote on a lease before September. Mas needs four of five commissioners to vote in favor, and two have outright opposed or openly criticized the Miami Freedom Park proposal. Commissioner Manolo Reyes has said he will remain a firm no vote. Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort said he does not think Melreese should be redeveloped.
Meanwhile, Mas and his partners have told Miami-Dade County officials that the team plans to close on its $9 million purchase of three acres of Miami-Dade land in Overtown, the previous site considered for an Inter Miami stadium. On Tuesday, he shed little light on the future of the Overtown property, saying only that he remains committed to pursuing Miami Freedom Park.
“Obviously a lot of people have asked if it’s a plan B for the stadium,” Mas said. “I’ve always said I’m 100 percent focused on making this [Melreese property] the home of Inter Miami, the home of soccer in Miami.”
Inter Miami is expected to launch in March 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, where site work has already begun on a practice facility and exhibition stadium at Lockhart Stadium.