A court hearing on the merits of the city of Miami’s referendum on a soccer stadium and other development at the site of Melreese Country Club could be coming as soon as Aug. 1.
The city has a week to respond to a complaint alleging it didn’t follow proper procedures when the City Commission approved a November ballot measure asking voters whether it should waive competitive bidding for the development, which was proposed by a team led by retired soccer star David Beckham and businessman Jorge Mas.
At a hearing Wednesday morning at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse, Judge Reemberto Diaz ordered the city to respond by July 31 to a complaint filed last week by local attorney William Douglas Muir.
Once Diaz reviews the city’s reply, he could choose to schedule a full hearing of evidence for Wednesday, Aug. 1.
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On Wednesday afternoon the Beckham group, known formally as Miami Freedom Park LLC, was added as a co-defendant. The group filed a motion to intervene early Wednesday afternoon, which the judge granted less than an hour later.
The motion states the Beckham group “must intervene to defend against the allegations made against it,” and attacks Muir’s complaint as “ambiguous.” The lawsuit, the motion adds, could interfere with the group’s “lawful right to pursue a lease agreement with the City and the City’s lawful right to pose a charter amendment to the voters.”
Muir contends the city has failed to follow its own charter by not opening up the project to a competitive bidding process, a similar argument to the one made by Commissioner Manolo Reyes when the commission voted.
“There’s a clear legal right that the public has to compete for the sale or lease of public land,” Muir told reporters after the hearing. “The public has an interest in bidding on the property.”
Judge Diaz initially suggested he would give the city 20 days to reply. But after Muir pointed out the city’s Aug. 7 deadline to finalize November ballot language, Diaz agreed to shorten the window to seven days.
Muir filed the complaint on July 18, hours before the City Commission voted to place the measure on the ballot. Muir took a somewhat unconventional legal route, filing what’s known as a complaint for writ of mandamus. That meant a judge would consider the complaint and then determine whether it warranted a reply.
Muir succeeded on that front Wednesday, despite some initial confusion from the judge about Muir’s goals. Muir planned to formally serve the complaint to the city Wednesday afternoon.
Assistant city attorney Christopher Green attended the hearing but offered little comment to the judge because the city had yet to be served.
Representatives from Beckham’s team also attended, including attorneys Richard Perez and John Shubin. Shubin stepped forward to address the judge, but Diaz said he would wait to hear from outside parties until the possible Aug. 1 hearing.
The Beckham group is pushing to lease 73 acres at the site of Miami’s lone public golf course for a $1 billion project that would include a 25,000-seat soccer stadium, office, retail and commercial space, soccer fields and hotel rooms. A new 58-acre public park is proposed for the rest of the 131-acre site.
If the November ballot question is upheld, voters will decide whether the city should make an exception to its competitive bidding law to allow negotiation of a no-bid deal.
City Attorney Victoria Mendez said in a statement that it’s not unusual for the city to be sued over questions it has placed on the ballot. “I am confident we will prove the city’s process was properly followed as we have in the past,” she said.
Read the judge’s order and the full complaint below: