Miami-Dade County

David Beckham stadium talks with Miami-Dade hit a snag

David Beckham announces plans to bring MLS team to Miami

Soccer icon David Beckham officially announces plans to bring an MLS team to Miami on Feb. 5, 2014.
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Soccer icon David Beckham officially announces plans to bring an MLS team to Miami on Feb. 5, 2014.

Efforts to negotiate a land deal for David Beckham’s proposed soccer stadium recently hit a snag when negotiators for the celebrity athlete balked at some of the terms Miami-Dade wants in exchange for a county-owned parcel, according to internal documents.

Already months behind schedule in assembling a nine-acre site in Overtown for a 25,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium, Beckham and his partners have yet to sign off on a string of hiring goals, employee benefits and local-business perks that Miami-Dade is demanding as part of the sale.

Last week, a county lawyer emailed her counterpart on the Beckham side to inquire about deal documents Miami-Dade needed to finalize the negotiations.

“It’s been awhile,” Debra Herman, an assistant county attorney, wrote in an April 26 email to Beckham lawyer Spencer Crowley, “and we were wondering when they would be completed and forwarded.”

Crowley, a partner at Miami’s Akerman, wrote back that day: “As far as status, we are still working to see if we can get the client comfortable with the additional commitments that have been added to the agreement. They are not there yet.”

Mayor Carlos Gimenez wants to waive competitive bidding for the nearly three acres of county land — currently used as a truck depot by the Water and Sewer Department — in exchange for Beckham’s group paying market value and agreeing to a package of “community benefits” aimed at boosting the local economy. The deal also includes per-job fines if the stadium doesn’t meet hiring targets and a $1 million penalty if the facility isn’t built.

The county emails, obtained through a public-records request, do not detail the Beckham side’s concerns about the proposed agreement. But two sources close to the talks said it is the community-benefit package that’s at issue.

Miami-Dade County is eager to move forward.

County spokesman Michael Hernández

The Beckham group has already touted its commitment to hiring local workers and using local vendors, but a source on the soccer side said some of the details require more analysis. The source downplayed the level of disagreement, saying it was more an issue of receiving clearance from a partnership that includes Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, entertainment mogul Simon Fullers and others for various aspects of the contract.

Michael Hernández, a spokesman for Gimenez, declined to offer details about the talks except to say the county is hoping to conclude them soon.

“Miami-Dade County is eager to move forward,” he said. “We look forward to finalizing the transaction.”

Beckham representatives declined to be interviewed on the record, but issued a statement that read in part: “We expect to reach an agreement with the County soon, at which point our team will enter the public [land-use and zoning] process en route to developing our privately financed MLS stadium in Overtown.”

The county would sell the Overtown land under the state’s economic-development law, which allows no-bid sales if the purchaser agrees to mandatory hiring targets and other benefits for the public. Miami-Dade invoked the statute last year when it approved a $12 million no-bid sale of 82 acres near Miami Lakes to the developer of the planned American Dream Miami shopping theme park. Beckham would have to pay market value for the county land, which sits near the corner of Northwest Sixth Avenue and Seventh Street. Officials say it has been appraised at about $9 million.

Among the benefits sought by Miami-Dade from the Beckham group: job training for local residents; free transit passes for stadium employees; a goal of 65 percent of construction jobs going to local residents; and an agreement that Beckham’s group won’t disqualify applicants or subcontractors “based solely on a prior incarceration.”

An impasse over county benefits would be the latest setback in Beckham’s two-year quest for a Miami stadium, a push that has seen him slowly drop requests for government help. He initially set his sights on prime waterfront land at the county’s PortMiami, then briefly tried for a city-owned parcel on the Miami waterfront, before settling on a mix of private and public real estate across from Marlins Park that he wanted to shield from property taxes by having the school board own it.

This is obnoxious — welcome to town major league soccer, now provide us your reports or DERM will sue you.

Beckham lawyer Spencer Crowley in a March 28 email to county officials

When that deal fell apart last fall, the Beckham group turned to the parcels in Overtown, including a truck depot and low-rise office complex used by the county’s Water and Sewer Department. The soccer partnership agreed to buy the county land at its appraised market value, own it outright, and pay standard property taxes.

With voters still fuming over the 2009 tax-funded construction of Marlins Park and both the Miami Heat and Miami Dolphins enjoying stadium-subsidy deals with the county, Beckham’s group sees itself finally offering taxpayers a stadium deal with no ties to government money.

But needing public land, Beckham still finds his team in government negotiations that have had their prickly moments. On March 28, the county’s Division of Environmental Monitoring and Restoration sent a notice to the Beckham organization’s offices in West Hollywood, California, that court action was possible if certain documents weren’t filed within 60 days.

On March 28, Crowley sent a terse email to Deputy Mayor Jack Osterholt, who oversees DERM. “This is obnoxious — welcome to town major league soccer, now provide us your reports or DERM will sue you,” he wrote. “One of the many reasons DERM has a bad name.”

An apologetic Leland Salomon, a top county administrator who was also copied on the email, wrote back to say it was a form letter the department sends out for legal reasons. “Please don’t be offended,” wrote Salomon, deputy director of Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources, which includes DERM.

Soccer star David Beckham answers five questions about his bid for an MLS team and soccer stadium in Miami on May 8, 2014.

Crowley wasn’t appeased, citing the soccer deal’s value to Miami-Dade.

“In a matter that has a heightened level of significance and importance to the county, one would think that DERM could exercise some level of thought and tact before sending correspondence like this,” he wrote. “This is not about being offended. It is about the message a letter like this sends to the public and the team regarding the county’s cooperation and ability to handle a simple regulatory component of this project.

“Among other significant issues,” he continued, “there are investors and partners in, and league oversight of, the deal, and things like this needlessly complicate those aspects of the transaction.”

Along with the community benefits aimed at local businesses and residents, the Beckham group must agree to mandatory hiring goals that will set a bar for how many people the stadium employs full time.

The hiring numbers are required under the state’s economic-development law, which allows local governments to waive competitive bidding for public land. The draft documents contained in the emails do not include numbers for the hiring requirements, but do lay out penalties if Beckham does not meet them within six years: a $1 million penalty, plus $27,000 for every unfilled job.

A draft of the deal also would require that the Beckham side spend at least $175 million building a stadium facility that the team has so far described as costing more than $200 million. The emails also show Beckham’s side pursuing use of the state’s “brownfield” program for dilapidated commercial properties, which can speed regulatory approvals for clean-up and provide up to $2.5 million in tax rebates each year.

In a Dec. 3 letter to Gimenez, a Beckham lobbyist wrote he wanted to get the deal for the Water and Sewer parcel before the County Commission for a final vote by Feb. 29. But delays in locking down the $19 million private-land sale next door helped blow that deadline. One email suggests the delay might be costly.

On March 18, county real estate manager Dawn Soper wrote to Water and Sewer official Liliana Rainey-Lacau with news of a recent transaction in the neighborhood.

“Hi Lily — not sure where you are on this deal, but the property right across the street from WASD’s site just sold at $142/sq. ft.,” Soper wrote, noting the county parcel was appraised at just $75 a foot.

“Perhaps speculation of the soccer stadium driving up prices,” Soper wrote, “but regardless, perhaps taking another look at the $$ on the deal?”