Miami-Dade County

David Beckham may draw a stadium foe from Miami-Dade’s GOP

Former England international football player and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham arrives at the start of a visit to Nepal for the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) in Kathmandu on November 6, 2015. AFP PHOTO / Rajendra KCRajendra KC/AFP/Getty Images
Former England international football player and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham arrives at the start of a visit to Nepal for the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) in Kathmandu on November 6, 2015. AFP PHOTO / Rajendra KCRajendra KC/AFP/Getty Images AFP/Getty Images

David Beckham’s push for a soccer stadium in Miami may be drawing opposition from the local Republican Party.

Nelson Diaz, chairman of the Miami-Dade GOP, said Saturday he’s hearing criticism from local party members who don’t want the county school board to give Beckham a property-tax break by assuming ownership of his planned 30,000-seat home for Major League Soccer.

“The feeling is: We’ve had enough,” said Diaz, a lobbyist with Southern Strategies and volunteer chairman of the county party’s executive committee. “I have not taken a position myself, but I kind of share a little bit of that feeling. We made a bad deal with the Marlins. Are we going to do it again?”

Diaz said the party may invite Beckham’s group to make its pitch in January and then take a position on the privately financed deal.

In heavily Democratic Miami-Dade, there are more independents than Republicans, who make up about 28 percent of the electorate. But the GOP could have outsized influence on the soccer deal since it is slated to be approved in a Miami referendum that would coincide with the March presidential primary that may be a showdown between Miami candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

At issue is Beckham’s pursuit of government ownership for a stadium he and his investors would privately fund. He has offered to spend about $200 million to build a stadium for his Major League Soccer franchise, and pay Miami for a portfolio of city land next to Marlins Park. He wants the school system to take ownership of the stadium, which would shield the facility from paying property taxes.

His negotiators have offered to continue the small tax bills already paid by private landowners on the site. In exchange for owning the stadium, Miami-Dade Schools would enjoy free use of the facility for graduations, football games and educational programming. Beckham’s group has also agreed to fund some school activities, such as bands and soccer teams.

Unlike stadiums for the Miami Heat, Miami Marlins and Miami Dolphins, Beckham would have no access to local tax dollars to subsidize operations or construction costs of the facility.

The Heat receive about $5 million a year from Miami-Dade hotel taxes for their county-owned arena, and Miami-Dade borrowed about $400 million to build Marlins Park. The Dolphins own their stadium, and pay about $4 million a year in property taxes. In 2014, the team also secured a deal with Miami-Dade that would yield bonuses of up to $5 million a year if they landed the Super Bowl and other major sporting events in exchange for a privately financed, $400 million stadium renovation.

Beckham’s Miami spokesman declined to comment, and school-system officials were not available for interviews.

Raquel Regalado, a Republican school board member whose district includes the stadium site, questioned why Diaz would raise objections now since the last two years saw Beckham pursue a stadium that was supposed to be owned by Miami-Dade County and also exempt from property taxes.

The Beckham group dropped its bid for county ownership last month in order to strike a deal with Miami-Dade Schools chief Alberto Carvalho. School board members still need to approve an agreement.

“There has never been a conversation about Beckham paying property taxes,” Regalado said. “There was always going to be a tax shelter. But the question is: Are we going to get a community benefit out of it, or are we going to get absolutely nothing?”

Regalado is running for Miami-Dade mayor in 2016 in an effort to unseat the incumbent, Carlos Gimenez. Her father, Tomás Regalado, is the mayor of Miami and helped facilitate the Beckham group’s shift to the school system.

The change brought a public rebuke from Gimenez, the senior Republican in county government, but also a pledge to support bringing Beckham to Miami no matter who owned the stadium.

For now, Beckham’s group says it faces a much bigger hurdle from real estate negotiations than it does from local politics.

An unknown number of land owners at the stadium site are asking for far higher prices than Beckham and his investors are willing to pay, and the soccer star’s negotiators have said the stalled talks threaten to kill the deal.

Diaz said he doubted the local GOP would actively campaign against the stadium even if the party decided to take a position on the issue.

“Our focus is on the November election,” he said.

His comments followed a critical letter to school board members from Lynda Bell, until recently a Republican star in Miami-Dade politics who lost her seat on the county commission last year when challenger Daniella Levine Cava won the District 8 election.

The letter cited a 2012 bond referendum that Carvalho championed, in which voters agreed to higher property taxes to fund $1.2 billion worth of construction and improvements throughout the school system.

“Fast forward to 2015, and now the same School Board is offering to forfeit what could end up being up to $300 million in tax subsidies to the Beckham Group, a private, for-profit entity,” wrote Bell, a former Homestead mayor. “I am not sure how your board can justify this to the taxpayers of Miami-Dade.”

In an interview, Bell raised the possibility of leading a group against the referendum.

“It seems like it is getting legs,” Bell said of the school-system agreement. “I don’t want to sit back without weighing in.”