Miami-Dade County

Amid soccer push, Beckham partner swoops into Miami for talks on cell network

Marcelo Claure in a 2012 file photo, before he was named the CEO of Sprint.
Marcelo Claure in a 2012 file photo, before he was named the CEO of Sprint. Miami Herald Staff

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure met behind closed doors Monday morning with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, but officials said cellphones were on the agenda and not the Miami soccer stadium Claure wants to secure for David Beckham.

Claure, one of Beckham’s financial partners in the soccer push, pitched Gimenez and top aides Monday on a Sprint initiative to beef up its network and retail presence in the Miami area, according to county officials and a Sprint presentation.

“I don’t know what you guys are here for, but it was not about soccer,” Deputy Mayor Jack Osterholt told reporters shortly after leaving the 7:30 a.m. meeting held at the county’s water department, which is near Gimenez’s home in the Coral Gables area. Claure told reporters when he arrived he planned to answer questions after the meeting, but took a different route when he left and did not speak to reporters.

A Gimenez spokesman said the mayor and Claure did not talk about the proposed Major League Soccer team or stadium before or after the meeting.

“MLS was not discussed,” said Michael Hernández, Gimenez’s communications director. “Obviously we hope they have an update soon.”

The Sprint initative will begin in Miami, and Claure already met with city officials on the plan. Monday’s last-minute meeting between Gimenez and Claure, which saw news trucks stationed outside the water department, captured the high interest in soccer talks that began with a Beckham media blitz in February 2014 but has yet to yield even consensus on where a stadium might go.

Now Beckham and his team find themselves pursuing a sports stadium during the run-up to the 2016 mayoral election, which pits Gimenez against Raquel Regalado, a two-term School Board member and daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado.

Earlier this month, Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez sent her Miami-Dade counterpart a terse letter telling the county to steer clear of any talks involving the area around Marlins Park, the former home of the Orange Bowl football stadium. Beckham’s group and the University of Miami last month met to discuss joining forces to build a stadium there large enough for both MLS soccer and UM football, which used to play at the Orange Bowl.

Méndez’s June 9 letter to Miami-Dade County Attorney Robert Cuevas notes “a large portion of the proposed site is comprised of property solely owned by the City.” It also said the agreement between Miami and Miami-Dade to build Marlins Park gives Miami the option to pursue a soccer stadium there “on such terms and conditions as it may determine....”

“Accordingly, please be advised that should the former Orange Bowl location be pursued for such development, it will be done only on those terms and conditions as negotiated by the City,” Méndez said. “Notwithstanding the above, the City will keep the County informed of any plans it develops, as required by the aforementioned provisions.”

Hernández said Miami-Dade has not responded to the letter. In an interview, Mayor Regalado said the letter was sent to clarify the legal record when it comes to the former Orange Bowl site.

The letter was “to clarify that the land belongs to the city. That the city of Miami will take the lead,” Regalado said. “And we will, of course, involve the county.”

The press attention from Beckham’s May 22 face-to-face with outgoing UM president Donna Shalala helped revive a sense of momentum for a soccer stadium, and gave the soccer investors a chance to backtrack from past comments that the site was “spiritually” tainted from controversy over public funding of Marlins Park. Beckham’s group said it does not need public funds to build the stadium, but had hoped in 2014 that Miami-Dade could provide a government-owned site for the team.

A string of hurdles remain, including how to pay for the 40,000-seat stadium that some cost estimates put at $250 million; the price tag for the stadium site itself, which includes some private property; and how UM could exit the 17 years remaining on its lease at the Miami Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium.

No one has officially declared Marlins Park the preferred site for soccer, and an undisclosed assemblage of private property in Overtown is also in the mix, according to multiple people involved in the talks. There’s also the complication of UM being between leaders, with Shalala replacement Julio Frenk taking over from an interim president in September after Shalala’s departure on May 31st.

Against the backdrop of the soccer talks, Claure is also pursuing an expansion of Sprint cellphone service in the Miami area.

Claure wants city and county officials to expedite permitting and give Sprint access to government-owned buildings for some of the transmitters for the $75 million initiative, which would bring about 800 new cellular transmitters throughout the county during the next 18 months.

Sprint, based in Overland Park, Kansas, picked Miami as one of the roll-out cities for its improved network. The company plans 17 new stores in the area, according to the presentation Miami-Dade provided to the Miami Herald.

The plan revolves around Sprint using small transmitters on existing structures. The company also plans to utilize “monopoles,” which the presentation says are about 150 feet tall that and don’t require high-tension wires or metal frames. They’re used to “improve telephony connectivity in areas where zoning is difficult,” the presentation stated. Claure became CEO of Sprint in August, months after he and Beckham launched their bid to bring MLS to Miami.

Adding the transmitters would create 125 jobs, according to Sprint, and another 100 jobs would come from the retail side of the operation. Sprint is also partnering with MasTec, a prominent Miami company, to launch a “Direct to You” delivery service for setting up customers’ new phones.

“It’s a pretty incredible project, from what I’m being told,” said Hernández, the county spokesman. “In addition to improving their network, it’s also adding jobs in the area because you need the infrastructure and the workers to do that.”

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