David Beckham’s business team swooped into Miami a year ago, full of irresistible excitement and lofty ideas, and got politicians to agree to negotiate a location for a new Major League Soccer stadium.
An enthusiastic Miami-Dade County Commission voted unanimously on Dec. 17, 2013, to authorize Mayor Carlos Gimenez to sit down with Beckham’s representatives and try to find a home for a professional soccer franchise to be owned by the retired English footballer, one of the world’s most-famous celebrities.
Twelve months after that vote, there is still no stadium site. Beckham’s group has stayed largely silent since June, regrouping — and, some supporters fear, reconsidering — after feeling burned by politicians who eagerly proposed potential sites on public land only to quickly back away from them.
The county and city commissions nixed stadium proposals at PortMiami and on a boat slip north of AmericanAirlines Arena, stinging Beckham’s team and forcing them to question whether they really wanted to come here.
The Miami Beckham United organization, which at first said it would take three months to weigh its remaining options, says it’s still hunting for a stadium location, though quietly this time, with private property owners. After being denied twice, the group appears reluctant to openly discuss a new one until a deal — assuming one can be reached — is firmly in place.
“We have made very meaningful strides in the last couple of months,” John Alschuler, Beckham’s real estate adviser and lead negotiator, said in an email to the Miami Herald. “While nothing in this complex equation can be taken for granted, I am optimistic that there will be several positive announcements in the first quarter of the next year.”
Meantime, County Commissioner Juan C. Zapata, a Beckham supporter, said he plans to propose legislation in the new year asking Beckham to consider temporarily locating his team at Florida International University’s main campus in West Miami-Dade, which is in Zapata’s district. Once there’s a team for fans to cheer, negotiating a stadium may not be as difficult, Zapata said.
“It makes it easier to sell a known product. And it doesn’t look good for us to not be proactive,” he said. “Until we figure out a stadium plan, I think we’ve got to get a team on the field.”
Beckham and MLS want to launch a Miami franchise with a new stadium and not a short-term location. But the league has been inconsistent, allowing the expansion New York City FC to play temporarily at Yankee Stadium.
“I think it’s obvious that the MLS isn’t going to get what they want,” Zapata said.
Other politicians have tried to float possible locations, with little success. County Commissioner Xavier Suarez likes the former Bertram Yacht headquarters and surrounding properties east of Miami International Airport. So does Coral Gables City Commissioner Vince Lago, who wants Beckham’s stadium to also house the University of Miami’s football team.
Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff pushed for the Miami Herald’s former downtown headquarters, now owned by Malaysian casino giant Genting. Beckham’s representatives had eyed the site early on but concluded it wouldn’t be financially viable, since it would require a significant land investment in addition to the cost of building a stadium with mostly private funds, which Beckham has pledged to do.
Earlier this year, Beckham exercised an option in his player contract to purchase a franchise for a deeply discounted $25 million after his retirement. However, it’s unclear how long he has to come up with financial and stadium plans. MLS has required new franchises to build soccer-specific facilities — preferably in urban, downtown locations — to replicate the business model that has worked in cities such as Seattle and Portland.
Beckham and the league had indicated there was a short time frame for a stadium deal to come together. But the passing months have shown there was no hard deadline, at least not for 2014. An MLS spokesman did not respond this week to emailed requests for comment. League Commissioner Don Garber told Reuters earlier this month that Beckham’s search “can’t go on forever.”
Worried fans have held their breath every time another city, such as Las Vegas or San Antonio, has said it wants a professional soccer team. When MLS shut down its ailing Chivas USA franchise in Los Angeles, the city where Beckham used to play for the LA Galaxy, a rumor posited that Beckham would pack his bags and head back west. He didn’t. Overtures from Broward County and Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton seem to have been greeted with polite thank yous from Beckham’s representatives, but no real interest.
MLS has been hesitant to try its luck again in Miami after the Fort Lauderdale-based Fusion folded in 2001. The league’s president has scorned a possible location next to Marlins Park in Little Havana because it’s not downtown — even though MLS and the city of Miami wrote draft agreements to build a stadium there six years ago.
One of Beckham’s investors — his manager, Simon Fuller — has called the site “spiritually tainted” by the unpopular public financing for the Marlins’ ballpark, though the group has never taken the location entirely off its list. Marlins President David Samson declined to say last month whether he’s been approached by Beckham’s group.
Privately, politicians have continued to say that site offers Beckham the best shot at leasing public land at a discount so he can afford to build a stadium on his own — especially since returning to the home of the old, beloved Orange Bowl might entice UM to share the expense.
“That’s the only place that we have that they might be able to use,” Daniel Alfonso, Miami’s city manager, said last week. But, he added, no Beckham representative has sat down with the city in the months after the bayside boat slip site was rejected.
“We have not heard from them since,” he said.