Beckham, Shalala meet as stadium partnership prospect gains traction

A stadium next to Marlins Park is considered the preferred choice by David Beckham and UM.
A stadium next to Marlins Park is considered the preferred choice by David Beckham and UM. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Soccer star David Beckham, his investment group and Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber met with outgoing University of Miami president Donna Shalala for three hours on Friday at a Coral Gables office building to explore the possibility of a joint stadium for a Miami MLS team and Hurricanes football.

They then met with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez for nearly an hour.

The group emerged from the meetings around 6 p.m., and only Gimenez spoke, saying, “They’re running out of time. They want to come to Miami. But it has to work for them, too. If they can’t get it done here, they may have to go somewhere else.’’

The rest of the principals, including Shalala, would not comment on what was discussed, details of the proposed plan, or what comes next.

“There’s really nothing to say at this point,’’ Beckham said in the parking lot, adding, “Donna was amazing, but we really can’t talk about anything now.’’

Gimenez said that Beckham “didn't really say very much” during their meeting, and that most of the talking was done by Marcelo Claure and Garber.

“There's no certainty that the University of Miami is going forward at this time,” Gimenez said. “It's not going to be a year or two. They [Beckham’s group] need to make a decision fairly quickly on a site.”

Gimenez and Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado embraced a new push by Beckham for a Miami stadium, saying a central role by UM would be helpful as the school seeks a new home for its football games.

“I think that it’s a good idea — and it’s something I brought up to the Beckham group a long time ago — that maybe you should be partnering up with the University of Miami. Because I know the University of Miami has wanted to come back closer to their campus,” Gimenez told reporters after a boat-safety news conference on Friday morning. “If you can kind of kill two birds with one stone, it’s not a bad thing. And the fact that UM is getting involved is not a bad thing.”

Regalado said that he was briefed by Shalala and Claure, and that they only talked about a combined football and soccer stadium next to Marlins Park, where UM used to play football at the old Orange Bowl stadium. Regalado, a top Gimenez rival, also was enthusiastic about the idea of UM leaving Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens to play at its old home.

“I would endorse the concept of the Canes and Beckham paying at the Orange Bowl,” he said during a telephone interview from Orlando, where he was vacationing with family. “To me that's fantastic. I see that as the component that Miami needs. This is the icing on the cake for the renaissance of Miami.”

Gimenez and Regalado said they spoke with Shalala about the potential for a soccer-and-football stadium on Thursday.

The timing of the visit by Beckham brought some wrinkles. Shalala only has one more week on the job before taking over the Clinton Foundation in New York. And while UM never held the kind of high-profile meeting held Friday, last year there was no secret about the school’s interest in a Beckham stadium allowing UM football to move to downtown Miami.

Beckham’s bids for a downtown waterfront location failed, and now a stadium next to Marlins Park is considered the preferred choice by Beckham’s group and the university.

Much of the land by Marlins Park is controlled by Miami, but Regalado was not on Beckham’s itinerary. A city official had said the soccer star’s organization had not been in touch. Mayor Regalado said that Shalala met with him at City Hall on Thursday, and that a university official put him on the phone with Claure and Garber on Friday afternoon. “They said it was a very rushed meeting,” Regalado said.

Gimenez and Regalado have united for a soccer plan before, only to see it fall apart. Regalado played a central role in blocking Beckham’s bid to bring soccer to Miami’s Museum Park. Now his daughter, Raquel, is running against Gimenez for county mayor in 2016.

But while Mayor Regalado floated the idea of a referendum for handing over city land to Beckham’s team in the past, on Friday he was iffy on that potential hurdle.

“I’m not sure about the legal issues. I think it’s too early to see if we need a referendum or if we need charrettes,” he said, referring to land-use planning sessions.

Even with political support, UM and Beckham face a significant hurdle: the Miami Dolphins.

Shalala recently lamented the football team having to play games at Sun Life Stadium. But leaving the program’s home since 2008 could be costly. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has signaled his intent to hold the Hurricanes to the remaining 17 years on their lease at the stadium, which is undergoing renovations that were part of a county subsidy deal approved last year.

The Hurricanes used to play football at the Orange Bowl, the former name of the Marlins Park site. It was demolished to make way for baseball. Now Beckham’s group has raised the possibility of building a Major League Soccer stadium next door that would be large enough, with about 40,000 seats, to accommodate football games, too.

Beckham’s group, which includes Claure and American Idol creator Simon Fuller, also has scouted at least one, as-yet-unidentified site in Overtown that is privately owned, and reportedly is considering a third site from the private sector. Last year, Beckham’s team pledged to build its own stadium and pay rent provided Miami-Dade could provide it free land.

On Friday, Gimenez reiterated that he would not use public funds for stadium construction. But he raised the possibility of the county shouldering some infrastructure costs around a stadium, and reaffirmed the idea that Miami-Dade could own the facility and spare Beckham from paying property taxes. That’s the case for the county-owned Marlins Park and AmericanAirlines Arena, while the Dolphins own their stadium and pay taxes.

“I’ve been very clear we’re not going to be contributing funds to the stadium. But if we’re able to help I’m certainly willing to listen,” Gimenez said. “We have stadiums that we’re owner of that other people have built. Maybe that’s one component. Maybe there is some infrastructure around there that is ours, that we have to discuss.”

A Gimenez spokesman later said the mayor was referring only to work that would need to be done for a stadium next to Marlins Park, which would likely require some alterations along Northwest 17th Avenue.

With Mayor Regalado saying Marlins Park is the favored site, this week’s development could mark an official walk-back by MLS and Beckham’s partners, who both had dismissed the Marlins site while pursuing more valuable spots on the Miami waterfront in 2014. Fuller famously called the area “spiritually tainted” because of the unpopular subsidy deal that allowed construction of Marlins Park.

Asked about Fuller’s remarks Friday, Gimenez replied: “We didn't talk about spirituality. We talked about dollars and cents, and where it could get done.”