David Beckham’s top Miami partner on Wednesday officially scrambled the celebrity athlete’s five-year quest for a soccer stadium, confirming the group now is considering multiple locations across the area — a list that two sources say includes the grounds of the Hialeah Park casino.
“We’re actively looking at five or so sites,” said Jorge Mas, the Miami executive who became the public face of Beckham’s stadium hunt after he and brother José joined the partnership late last year. “There are a handful of sites that are interesting.”
The statement amplifies what’s been obvious for weeks: that the Mas brothers want the 25,000-seat stadium built somewhere other than Overtown, the Miami neighborhood that has been the Beckham group’s announced site since late 2015. The Mas brothers have been in talks with top Miami officials about building a stadium at the city’s Melreese golf course, but have never publicly confirmed their interest in leaving Overtown.
In an interview with the Miami Herald, Mas said Overtown remains a possibility. But he gave his strongest indication yet that the partnership, which includes Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure and “American Idol” creator Simon Fuller, is starting fresh with a new list of stadium sites.
Mas described a winnowing process underway among the partners that will settle on two finalists within the next two months. Mas declined to confirm individual sites, but sources familiar with the talks said the partners are considering:
▪ Land inside Hialeah Park and Casino.
The casino has under-used the track after shifting away from thoroughbred racing, so the Beckham group could find an attractive stadium site there. Jorge Mas has said publicly he doesn’t think the planned nine-acre site in Overtown is large enough for the extensive stadium complex he wants to build, potentially including practice fields for a youth soccer program and some sort of office component to house technology companies.
The 1925 casino, known for its iconic pink flamingos, occupies a site that covers roughly 40 square blocks in Hialeah off Palm Avenue.
▪ Land near Jackson Memorial Hospital. A source familiar with the talks said the Beckham group is looking at roughly 20 acres of city-owned land at the corner of Northwest 20th Street and 12th Avenue. The parcel is home to a truck depot for the city’s trash-hauling arm. Blocks away from the county-owned hospital, the site is a short walk away from the Santa Clara Metrorail station. Like Melreese, it’s also close to one of Miami’s main east-west thoroughfares, the Dolphin Expressway.
▪ Melreese. The city golf course near Miami International Airport sits just north of the Dolphin Expressway. Mas going public about interest in other sites comes just a couple of weeks after the Mas brothers met with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and City Manager Emilio González about developing the city park and golf course into Beckham’s stadium complex.
González and staff are already researching how to get a potential Melreese item onto the ballot in time for city elections in August or November, while asking the Mas brothers to provide stadium renderings and the amount they’d be willing to pay in rent. The Miami City Commission meets Thursday, so the Mas comments come at a particularly sensitive time.
The public speculation about sites other than Melreese also comes as Miami could be racing to meet a June deadline to get a stadium ballot measure crafted and approved in time for the city’s primary election in August. A referendum may not be required to sign a development deal with the Beckham group for Melreese. But allowing voters to veto the plan would provide political cover to city commissioners and Suarez, who has already spoken in favor of a public vote.
Some city commissioners have already publicly pushed back on the idea of transforming the municipal golf course into a stadium site. Commissioner Wilfredo “Willy” Gort, whose district contains Melreese, said this week he doesn’t support converting the golf course into a stadium complex.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” he told the Miami Herald. “It would do away with green areas.”
After news of the potential Melreese stadium broke March 6, professional golfer Erik Compton and others who have played tournaments at the course began promoting a petition drive to block the Beckham proposal.
▪ Overtown. The Beckham group has already paid about $19 million for six acres of private land near the Miami River in Overtown, real estate purchased in early 2016 after failed bids to secure a stadium site in PortMiami, downtown Miami, and across from Marlins Park in Little Havana. It has until June to close on a $9 million purchase of three acres of Overtown property owned by Miami-Dade County, which sits just south of the purchased property off Northwest Sixth Avenue. The site is a short walk from the Culmer Metrorail Station, but is too cramped for the Beckham group to include a parking garage.
▪ Doral. The Mas brothers, who run the Miami-based MasTec infrastructure firm, have discussed building the stadium complex on the site of an existing Pepsi distribution center at 7777 NW 41st St. Entities controlled by developers David Martin and Stephen Bittel bought the 24-acre property for $40 million in January.
▪ Somewhere else? Mas said “five or so” sites, and other places may be under consideration.
Mas appears ready to pitch the stadium complex as an economic engine as he flirts with the always dicey proposition of securing public land and political support for a sports stadium.
“Whatever site is chosen,” he said, it “has to be a job creator and has to have life — to be a technology hub.
As the Beckham group talks with Miami about taking over the Melreese park, Mas also is trying to promote the stadium complex as the home for Beckham’s for-profit soccer team as well as a place for children to enjoy.
“I’m looking to do something really special for the community,” he said. “I want to build a significant amount of youth fields.”
This article was updated to clarify the deadline for sending a potential stadium referendum to Miami voters in August. The City Commission would need to approve a ballot item by June 8.