David Beckham’s team still has some work to do with Miami residents

Miami Herald Editorial Board

MasTec executive Jorge Mas and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez shown at a meeting with the Miami Herald Editorial Board to discuss the soccer stadium proposal for Melreese Country Club.
MasTec executive Jorge Mas and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez shown at a meeting with the Miami Herald Editorial Board to discuss the soccer stadium proposal for Melreese Country Club.

David Beckham and Jorge Mas took a long time to present the details of their proposal to build an enormous retail, restaurant, hotel and office development — with a Major League Soccer stadium thrown in. Then, after Miami city commissioners failed to put their no-bid proposal on the ballot last week, the partners scrambled to get at least three commissioners on board, tweaking the proposal and making concessions.

But what they should have been doing all along is making the case directly to the people, as Mas and Mayor Francis Suarez did with the Editorial Board this week. They want Miamians to waive competitive-bidding laws and negotiate a deal with the Beckham team. Elected officials should have insisted upon it. After all, Mas and Beckham want to use 131 acres of Melreese golf course, east of Miami International Airport, to build Miami Freedom Park. City taxpayers own Melreese, and the massive project would gobble up the majority of it.

This is a far cry from Beckham’s original quest to build a stadium for a Major League Soccer team four years ago. Why the rush now? Mas says that they must break ground for the stadium by October 2019. Otherwise, they could lose the franchise.

Last week, when the partners asked the city to approve putting the proposal on the November ballot, commissioners told them to wait. Wednesday, when the issue is revisited, they should tell the Beckham team to wait a little longer. Here’s why: Public input is essential, and there hasn’t been enough of it. The commission has until Aug. 7 to get the plan on the ballot.

Mas and Suarez came across as earnest and committed. They made some good points: Melreese is an underused and restricted public space; the soccer fields and park will open it to a wider public.

Mas says he’s willing to take the campaign directly to taxpayers, knocking on doors.

That’s what the Beckham team needs to do more of in the intervening weeks.

The 131-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 fund. 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.

On Monday, in their presentation to the Board, Mas and Suarez filled in some of the blanks of Miami Freedom Park. On Tuesday, the Beckham team released an amended proposal to woo any skeptical commissioners:

▪ Mas originally vowed to reserve $35 million to remove toxic waste from the site. Now, under new terms, the city would pay nothing should remediation exceed that.

▪ They predict $425 million in projected sales and proposed to pay $3.6 million a year in rent. They called it “fair market value.” We called it “Not enough.” As of Tuesday, however, Miami would get the greater of fair market value, to be determined by two independent appraisers, or 5 percent of gross rent revenue collected from tenants. That’s a start.

▪ The promise is that traffic will stack up within the park, and not back up onto 37th Avenue. Let’s see some independent traffic surveys on that one.

▪ The complex will feature a major technology component. That tenant, Mas said, will be revealed sometime before November. Intriguing, however, since this and the hotels will be the real financial engines that sustain the project, he must be more forthcoming. The 25,000-seat stadium will host a mere 17 games a year, with other events possible.

▪ The beloved First Tee program for kids now will stay on site.

Mas called the plan “the anti-Marlins deal.” Miamians still have a sour taste from being played for fools and left holding the bag. And yes, the Editorial Board supported that stadium.

Last week, project supporters and foes lined up to address the commission. Wednesday, there’s been no public input scheduled. And that’s exactly why this new iteration needs residents’ buy-in. Too many people feel shut out of the process, which rightly breed suspicion. “We need our interests aligned with the taxpayers’,” Mas told the Editorial Board. We agree, and he should tell that to them directly.