Fabiola Santiago

Ditching Beckham star power, ‘Miami boy’ pitches public land grab for MLS stadium

‘The voters will know every single detail about the lease,’ says Jorge Mas before Miami commissioners vote on his stadium prospect

MasTec executive Jorge Mas talks with the Miami Herald’s Editorial Board about his stadium prospect at Melreese Golf Course on Monday, July 16, 2018.
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MasTec executive Jorge Mas talks with the Miami Herald’s Editorial Board about his stadium prospect at Melreese Golf Course on Monday, July 16, 2018.

There was something head-spinning about Jorge Mas — the namesake son of a late anti-Castro, anti-Soviet warrior hailed as the leader of the Cuban exile — sitting down with the Miami Herald to pitch a glitzy soccer stadium on the same day the president of the United States was selling out his country to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

But it’s refreshing, given our history of existing in ethnically segregated pods, when a powerful baseball-loving Cuban American is pushing soccer as the future of Miami instead of U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba as local law.

It says something about evolving, modern Miami no longer being a predictable social and political landscape, even if the shenanigans in city and county hall remain.

“Above everything, I’m a Miami boy,” Mas said in a near-perfect sales pitch to build a soccer stadium and commercial complex on controversial public land housing the Melreese Country Club near Miami International Airport — and make the project his legacy.

Mas’ personalized backing signals that the bid to bring Major League Soccer to Miami may have been launched almost five years ago with the star power of Brit David Beckham, but the political battle is going hyper-local, where it belongs.

Jorge Mas (izq.) escucha a David Beckham en su presentación en la Comisión de Miami, el 12 de julio de 2018. Pedro Portal pportal@miamiherald.com

“I’ll go visit the neighbors,” vowed Mas, the chairman of MasTec, a cable-laying firm started by his father and now a construction and infrastructure Fortune 500 company.

And this, he vowed: “The voters will know every single detail about the lease.”

But will city commissioners know all the details when they vote on Wednesday on whether to send to voters this no-bid takeover of public land? And will Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon recuse himself — as he should — since his aunt Barbara Hardemon is a lobbyist on the project? (He has said he won’t.)

Plenty of questions remain, but what Mas is pitching isn’t a bad Marlins-like deal.

They’ll pay market-value rent and taxes — plus pay all costs to clean up this hazardous waste site (amazing that adults would want to play golf there, much less children). Nor is the retail component of the project another megamall like the one approved for Northwest Miami-Dade. At 600,00 square feet, the retail space would be about the original size of Dadeland Mall.

There’s a public park for the neighborhood in the design, but the $1 billion Miami Freedom Park project isn’t a Central Park for Miami. That ship sailed many developments ago — and the best Miamians can hope for on that end is to keep Museum Park development-free. Even without the stadium, such a park by the airport doesn’t exactly cut it as “central” anyhow.

But having a real park with green space everyone can use and enjoy — not just those who can afford to pay to play golf — is an asset to the Grapeland Heights neighborhood east of the site, as are the promised soccer fields for kids. And the children who use the golf course through the wonderful The First Tee program have been promised a home in nearby Miami Springs’ 18-hole golf course.

Still, there’s no avoiding that the Beckham/Mas & partners plan is primarily commercial development on public land — and even if they pay multimillion-dollar rent and clean up the contaminated site at their expense, it’s still a no-bid public land grab.

The proposed minimum rent of $3.6 million annually for such valuable property — 73 acres at a prime location — is a steal. The city must negotiate harder on that number and verify independently the Mas claim that the development — composed of the 25,000-seat stadium, a hotel, restaurants, and retail and office complexes — would generate $44 million in city, county, state and school district taxes.

Local governments can certainly use that revenue, but other issues matter, too. The city, for instance, must also ensure that the general-use park is truly accessible to residents — not a hazard to get to via what will certainly be a very busy 37th Avenue.

Which brings us to choking traffic, Miami’s No. 1 problem.

Let’s not pretend that this, like every other major development in this county, won’t be a traffic generator.

That’s just dishonest — and why we can’t enjoy nice things.

Nobody trusts government or developers to adequately address infrastructure and public transportation needs.

If Jorge Mas really wants to make soccer his legacy, changing the story of bad deals, no transportation plans and mistrust is a great place to start.