Soccer stadium deal too big, too secretive. Tell them ‘Too bad,’ Miami commissioners. Vote No.

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Miami Freedom Park would feature a Major League Soccer stadium and a large office and retail complex on the site of Melreese golf course.
Miami Freedom Park would feature a Major League Soccer stadium and a large office and retail complex on the site of Melreese golf course.

Since soccer superstar David Beckham brought his contagious dream of a Major League Soccer stadium in 2014, the Miami Herald Editorial Board has supported his vision, if not his failed initial request for prime public waterfront property.

Since then, the stadium has had many potential locations. A nine-acre lot in Overtown seemed to be the final home. Then brothers Jorge and Jose Mas, owners of MasTec, joined Beckham’s venture. They had a “better” idea for a location — the municipal Melreese golf course near Miami International Airport.

Once again, Miami residents are on the receiving end of plenty of promises — if only they give up the precious land that they themselves own. We’ve been here before, and it hasn’t been pretty.

Here’s the ask: A group of investors wants residents to let them build a private stadium and a massive entertainment and retail complex in public green space. In exchange, taxpayers will benefit from millions in revenue generated, they say. It will be great, proving we’re a world-class city, they say.

Any deal that magnificent needs much more of a public airing than this has had. It has all the earmarks of a rushed and hushed backroom deal that the city wants to ram down residents’ throats.

Thursday, Beckham and the Mas brothers will ask the City Commission to put on the November ballot a question asking voters if the Beckham group should be given one-time-only permission to ignore the usual process for such projects, basically, circumventing the bidding process and allowing the group to plan the new stadium and much, much more at the public golf course. They say that they’ll pay $3.6 million a year in rent, yet make $425 million in projected sales.

The 130-acre Melreese property would go from an 18-hole golf course to a stadium and commercial complex surrounded by new soccer fields and a traditional park that the Beckham group would pay to create. There would be a 750-room hotel, an office park with 400,000 square feet of space and paid parking for 3,750 vehicles. It also would have a much smaller golf facility.

If voters were to say Yes, Miami Freedom Park’s framework could move forward without pressure from the city or, worse, pesky residents who will have serious questions about traffic, impact on the infrastructure and the adjacent Grapeland Heights neighborhood.

We have no reason to question the integrity of the members of the Beckham group. However, we think the process, so far, has been a slap in the face to Miamians who have seen public land squandered for too many dubious projects, from a lackluster Jungle Island to being gouged by the Marlins in the previous owner’s quest for a stadium. And that park the Miami Heat vowed to create never happened.

Don’t roll over for this one, city commissioners. The original plan for a 25,000-seat soccer stadium remains attractive. But there has yet to be any justification for plunking down a “city within a city”

Jorge Mas told the Board that the group is not trying to bypass the usual scrutiny of such a gargantuan project with a murky question to voters. “It’s the opposite,” Mas said in an email. “We are following the process prescribed by the city, including taking this project to the voters, something that other sports deals didn’t do in the past, even when they included significant components of public financing and subsidies.”

Miami City Commissioner Manolo Reyes is one of at least two commissioners expected to vote against the November ballot question on the stadium deal due to the “lack of transparency” shown to Miami voters.

Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes doesn’t agree. Neither do we. He told the Board that he plans to vote No. “I’m not against the stadium, but there has been very little transparency with this project. There have been no community meetings, no outreach, no explanations. I want the process in place to be respected.” Commissioner Willy Gort has said he, too, will vote No.

Who on the commission will stand with them? With two others indicating they will vote to place the question on the ballot, Commissioner Ken Russell is likely to be the swing vote. If he has any sense of public service and stewardship, he, too, will vote No.

Basically, this is a no-bid project slated for the wrong location and a public land grab with a litany of seductive promises that seeks to skirt the public scrutiny it demands.

Sorry, David, this one doesn’t pass muster.

An earlier version of this editorial misnamed Miami City Commissioner Manolo Reyes.