A top executive behind All Aboard Florida has begun talks about helping to bankroll the 25,000-seat soccer stadium that David Beckham wants to build about six blocks from the company’s new rail depot and commercial complex, sources familiar with the talks said.
The reported negotiations between Miami Beckham United, the corporate entity behind the retired soccer star’s stadium effort, and Wesley Edens, co-chairman of Fortress Investment Group, have not ended in a deal, the sources said. Edens, already an owner of the Milwaukee Bucks NBA franchise, has surfaced as the latest potential Beckham suitor after previous talks with an investment arm of the Qatari government broke down earlier this year.
But while those negotiations involved a foreign investment entity with deep roots in soccer — Beckham briefly played for the Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain football club in Paris in 2013 — the attempted deal with Edens would link Beckham’s Major League Soccer franchise with a New York-based firm that has become one of the most important players in Miami’s real estate industry.
Through its subsidiary, Florida East Coast Industries, Fortress is not only backing the new Miami-to-Orlando railway called the Brightline, but also the five-block Miami Central depot and commercial complex that would house both the depot for its trains and the new tax-funded extension for the Tri-Rail commuter line.
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In a statement released Monday morning, Miami Beckham United initially confirmed talks with Fortress executives. “Miami Beckham United has attracted significant investor interest following the purchase of two pieces of land in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood,” the statement read. “The list of possible investors includes principals of Fortress Investment Group, the company behind the All Aboard Florida rail project and the Miami Central mixed-use development in downtown, just blocks from our stadium site.”
Three sources close to the talks said the discussions were only with Edens, and are not a Fortress negotiation. His share of the NBA Milwaukee franchise is not owned through Fortress. A second, revised statement from Miami Beckham United dropped references to Fortress. “The list of possibilities includes a prominent investor with significant investments in Miami,” the new statement read.
Beckham plans to field an MLS franchise he can buy at a discount as part of the 2007 deal that brought him to the U.S.-based league. He and his business partners, including Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure and entertainment mogul Simon Fuller, have spent roughly three years in a failed effort to secure a stadium site in the Miami area. After defeated bids at PortMiami, downtown Miami and the Marlins Park area, the group late last year turned their attention to Overtown.
The Miami Beckham United statement said Beckham, Claure and Fuller are “evaluating” the potential deal with the unnamed investor “and several more possibilities … with the goal of identifying a partner who brings additional resources to our club.”
A deep-pocketed investor is key to Beckham’s ambitions to bring a Major League Soccer stadium to Miami. His effort began in 2013 and went through three bids to secure other sites before the announcement late last year that the team’s chosen home was on a mix of private and county-owned parcels in western Overtown. The site runs along Northwest Sixth Avenue, between Sixth and Eighth streets.
While the Beckham group paid almost $19 million for six acres of private land in March, talks on purchasing the three-acre lot owned by Miami-Dade County have stalled as the two sides wrangle over hiring requirements and other community benefits tied to the sale. The county talks are months behind schedule — in December, the Beckham side sent Mayor Carlos Gimenez a letter saying it wanted the Miami-Dade deal approved by March 1. Sources in the Beckham camp attributed the slowdown to the ongoing pursuit of a major investor to complete the stadium’s financing package.
Fortress purchased Florida East Coast Industries in 2007, giving it control of a railway system and land holdings that were part of Henry Flagler’s empire at the turn of the 20th century.
An alliance with All Aboard Florida would give Beckham a massive commercial and parking complex for a $175 million stadium with no plans for its own garages. The lack of on-site parking has been a constant concern from elected leaders, while the Beckham group points to a nearby Metrorail station and the use of parking garages and lots in the surrounding area. The new Brightline rail also would link Miami with the closest MLS city, Orlando, and would reinforce the Beckham group’s effort to establish a cross-state rivalry for the new team.
Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández described a potential All Aboard alliance as an encouraging sign. “Mayor Gimenez is happy the Beckham group is looking to partner with a private company that has a history of investing in South Florida,” he said.