Only a few days after David Beckham’s negotiators announced a break-through deal for a new stadium site in Overtown to be built partially on county-owned land, a Miami-Dade administrator wrote with what sounded like a hard-and-fast demand.
Zaba Castro, the Water and Sewer Department’s assistant director for legislative affairs, emailed Beckham lobbyist Spencer Crowley on Dec. 8 to say the agency would need to retain a piece of the three-acre county lot designed for the 25,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium. The piece was needed for one of three pump stations being constructed for Miami-Dade’s $3 billion upgrade of its sewage system in order to sharply reduce the amount of waste water it pumps into the Atlantic Ocean.
“I’m reminding you that assuming the deal moves forward, 15,000 square feet must remain dedicated to WASD [exact location on the site TBD at WASD’s discretion] for the future construction of a pump station to comply with the Ocean Outfall legislation,” wrote Castro, who recently left her county post.
Crowley wrote back to express both his surprise at the request and his confidence that the station would be a deal killer.
A pump station “has not been discussed in any of our conversations with the mayor,” Crowley wrote, referring to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. About 20 minutes later, Crowley, a lawyer and Akerman partner, sent a second email response saying: “We are already getting feedback from MLS [that the] site is too tight. Zero chance we have any excess square footage … If this is required we need to know right away because this site is not going to work.”
Lester Sola, the Water and Sewer Department’s director, soon weighed in, saying there was no definite requirement to put a pump station on the county property at 678 NW Seventh St. “The need and location of this pump station is undefined,” he wrote.
Sola’s response appeared to end the hiccup for the Beckham stadium talks, but the alternative site has brought complications of its own.
Water and Sewer settled on a nearby county-owned property for the station at 430 NW Ninth St. That’s the same land where a charity wants to build a residential facility for at-risk youth called Mama Hattie’s House.
The facility has been a top priority for the Overtown area, and was one of three projects written into a 2010 deal between Miami and Miami-Dade that expanded the boundaries of a special anti-blight taxing district known as the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency.
Audrey Edmonson, the county commissioner representing Overtown, said she wanted the Ninth Street property to become the nonprofit’s home but recently encountered a problem from the administration. In March, the county wrote her office to say the property was needed for a new pump station. Edmonson said she wasn’t aware the station was originally slated for the property now pledged to Beckham.
“This is the first I’m hearing of that,” she said.
Even so, Edmonson said she wasn’t ready to weigh in on whether the pump station should take a backseat to Mama Hattie’s House.
“I want Mama Hattie’s House to go there,” she said. “But I have to see if this will prevent the county from doing good things countywide.”
Beckham’s Overtown location marks his fourth try at a stadium site, after failed bids for real estate at PortMiami, downtown Miami and near Marlins Park in Little Havana. The county-owned land is the last piece of the assemblage he needs for the site, which has the potential to bring Major League Soccer — and the brand of one of the world’s most famous athletes — to one of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods.
Spearheaded by the Miami-based Girl Power charity, the Mama Hattie’s House project is described in redevelopment agency documents as a five-story complex that would provide services and a place to live for at-risk girls and young women. In correspondence with Edmonson’s office, Girl Power president Thema Campbell said she needed about 26,000 square feet for the facility and that, among the county-owned lots within the Overtown redevelopment district, the Ninth Street property was best suited for the project. Campbell could not be reached for an interview.
The county’s pump-station request, revealed in emails obtained by the Miami Herald, offers the first hint of any sort of sacrifice on Miami-Dade’s part in selling Beckham’s group the county-owned parcel. Beckham agreed to pay market rate for the public land (the county estimates it’s worth $9 million), not pursue local subsidies and to own the property outright, which will subject the stadium to real estate taxes.
Gimenez appointed Sola director of the Water and Sewer department in early 2015. Sola said he soon concluded that the property now slated for the Beckham deal was something the county should sell, well before it was targeted in the soccer deal. He said its location and status as a vehicle depot made it much more valuable as an asset to be liquidated.
“It makes no sense to build a pump station there,” Sola said in an interview, “and devalue the property.”
He said the demand for a pump station made to Crowley in the early days of the soccer deal was a mistake. “They were still working on historical information,” he said of Water and Sewer staff.
An email released Friday from a contractor working on the Ocean Outfall program described the Ninth Street property as the better fit for a pump station, since it’s closer to needed connections to the county’s underground pipe system. The project manager, Jorge Camacho, wrote in a May 17 email that it would cost $7 million more to build the station on the land Beckham wants. The Ninth Street property “provides construction cost savings,” Camacho wrote, “when compared to the original site…”
Another internal engineering report cites contamination issues at the Ninth Street site, which would increase the cost of turning over the land to a non-profit.
Beckham and investors need the original pump-station site for part of an assemblage of land where they would build a privately financed and privately owned stadium. In March, the group closed on six acres owned by a partnership that includes Barry Goldmeier, who is the father of Gimenez’s chief fundraiser in his 2016 reelection campaign, Brian Goldmeier.
A new station in the Overtown area would be a tiny cog in the county’s massive network of underground pipes and above-ground pumps. Miami-Dade already has more than 1,000 pump stations spread throughout the county.
Three new pump stations are planned for the Ocean Outfall project: one in Overtown, one by Miami Executive Airport in the Kendall area, and one in the Doral area. Seven pump stations will be upgraded, Sola said.
Beckham’s negotiators are months behind schedule in reaching an agreement with county officials over purchasing the land. One snag, according to previously released emails, was the Beckham team resisting proposed terms of a “community benefits” package aimed at local workers and businesses. While Beckham’s negotiators initially asked Miami-Dade for a vote on the land deal by March 1, the talks went quiet this spring.
Water and Sewer’s retracted demand for a pump station on the Beckham property leaves Miami-Dade in the position of putting the equipment elsewhere. Though pump stations can be disguised with landscaping and other improvements, the presence of a sewage facility can be unwelcome news for neighbors — and for the elected officials representing them.
“I don’t want a pump station going into the middle of Overtown,” Edmonson said.