David Beckham on Friday dropped his pursuit of a stadium next to Marlins Park in favor of a nine-acre site on the western edge of Overtown, revealing preliminary land deals with private owners and county officials to secure a Miami home for Major League Soccer.
The announcement marked the first time in two years that Beckham and his investors said they actually have real estate under contract as one of the world’s most famous athletes tries to bring a privately financed stadium to Miami. The latest deal calls for Beckham’s group to own all the real estate, dropping its effort to elude property taxes by having a government serve as the stadium’s landlord.
“I believe this is a much better deal for the taxpayer,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said during a news conference announcing his talks to sell the Beckham group a three-acre county service yard as part of the stadium site.
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The Overtown site is the fourth one announced by Beckham since the public launch of his Miami stadium quest in early 2014. With Gimenez expressing confidence the county will close its deal, and private land already under contract, Beckham’s group cast Friday as the most hopeful moment yet in a campaign that has already seen failed stadium bids at PortMiami, downtown Miami and, most recently, in the Little Havana neighborhood that Marlins Park calls home.
“We have never been closer,” Miami Beckham United, the name of the group formed by Beckham and partners, said in a statement.
The new site spans two blocks just west of Interstate 95 and three blocks north of the Miami River, where Northwest Eighth Street meets Northwest Sixth Avenue. The primary private parcel is a 4.2-acre parking lot, while the county property consists of a truck depot and vacant land managed by the Water and Sewer Department.
If successful, Beckham would bring a 30,000-seat soccer stadium to one of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods, in an area currently lacking parking garages, restaurants and retail. Beckham would acquire the county land under the state’s economic-development laws, which allow governments to circumvent bidding procedures when a buyer agrees to certain hiring and spending targets. In a letter to Gimenez this week, Beckham’s group pledged to spend at least $150 million building the stadium and described the project as a boon to the stadium area as well as surrounding neighborhoods.
“We believe this proposed location for a soccer stadium will have significant positive impacts on Overtown, Little Havana, and the burgeoning Miami River restaurant district along North River Drive,” Neisen Kasdin, a Miami lobbyist and lawyer representing Beckham, wrote in a Dec. 3 letter to Gimenez laying out the deal.
Miami-Dade commissioners must approve any deal Gimenez crafts, and the mayor signed a framework proposed by Kasdin that calls for a sales price based on two appraisals and closing the sale by Feb. 29.
The site sits within city limits, and Miami commissioners would need to accept any zoning changes for constructing an open-air stadium expected to be far larger than the 19,600-seat AmericanAirlines Arena and only slightly smaller than the 37,000-seat Marlins Park.
A public housing complex sits north of the site, and a bridge over the Miami River connects it to the affluent Spring Garden neighborhood. Beckham’s group also plans to seek approval from the city of Miami to close Northwest Seventh Street, which runs east and west between the two blocks where the stadium would be built.
In its statement, Beckham United pledged to “engage nearby businesses and residents as we develop our stadium design and take steps to enhance the neighborhood.”
Beckham’s negotiators said they were under pressure to secure a deal by Saturday, when the MLS board gathers for a meeting. When Beckham played for the MLS in Los Angeles, he secured an option to purchase a team franchise at a deep discount. MLS owners have extended the option as Beckham continued pursuing a Miami stadium.
The Overtown site provided Beckham’s group with a Plan B as its Little Havana ambitions seemed to crumble in recent weeks. Team negotiators blamed the impasse on private land owners asking for too much money, while even insiders sympathetic to Beckham’s cause questioned why the organization hadn’t locked up the real estate before going public with its interest in the site.
“I think they finally figured out that you don't lead with the press conference,” said Miami City Commissioner Francis Suarez. “You get a deal done, and then you announce it to the public. Doing it the opposite way, from a real estate perspective, is the wrong way to do it. They did that three times and failed three times.”
Beckham could have shared four city-built parking garages at Marlins Park, but has no plans at the moment for stand-alone garages in Overtown, Gimenez said. While there will be some parking underneath the stadium, Gimenez said the team plans to rely on a tradition of soccer fans walking to games.
“They have this thing called a “march to the match,’” Gimenez said, pointing to the Culmer Metrorail station about a third of a mile away. “There’s public transit that people can [use] and then walk to the stadium.”
Beckham’s group faced a political thicket in Little Havana, with Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado requiring voter approval before backing the sale of city land to the team. A referendum was tentatively planned to coincide with the March presidential primary. Adding to the challenge was Beckham’s negotiators in October dropping a plan for county ownership of the Little Havana stadium in favor of the Miami-Dade school board serving as the landlord.
Both governments provided the same advantage — exemption from property taxes — but the move prompted a dust-up between Gimenez and Regalado. Raquel Regalado, the mayor’s daughter and a school-board member, is challenging Gimenez in the 2016 mayoral election. Gimenez accused the Regalados of playing politics with the soccer deal, while they accused him of caring more about being center stage in the talks than bringing Beckham to Miami.
On Friday, Tomás Regalado embraced the Overtown site. “To me, all that matters is that the location is in the city of Miami,” he said. Raquel Regalado said it wasn’t politics that handicapped the Little Havana site but the Beckham group’s initial insistence on a waterfront site downtown. “They spent 18 months spinning their wheels, and they just ran out of time,” she said.
In exchange for ownership, the school system wanted free use of the stadium for graduations, football games, band competitions and other large events, along with educational facilities for visiting classes. On Friday, Gimenez said he would still pursue benefits for the school system now that he’s back at the center of the deal, though he didn’t embrace the original list.
“I really can’t see you having a graduation outdoors in the middle of June,” he told reporters. “You don’t really need a 30,000-seat stadium to have band contests.”