Beckham’s Broward stadium plan pitches soccer without commercial development

David Beckham’s six-year quest for a Miami soccer stadium has gone on for so long that he and his partners now want to build one in Fort Lauderdale first.

Beckham and partners took a significant step Tuesday toward securing a soccer training complex and 18,000-seat exhibition stadium in Broward. They won unanimous support from the Fort Lauderdale City Council, which ranked the Beckham plan ahead of a rival proposal for a soccer stadium paired with retail and entertainment development.

The proposal by FXE Fútbol for Fort Lauderdale’s boarded-up Lockhart Stadium grounds is a scaled-down version of the concept that Miami voters endorsed last fall for Beckham.

The referendum authorized Miami to negotiate a real estate deal with the Beckham group to transform the city of Miami’s only golf course into a 25,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium, mall and office park, with nearly 60 acres of parkland for the city. In Broward, the Beckham group is emphasizing the lack of commercial elements for its Lockhart plan.

“Our investment does not depend on third-party financing,” Beckham group lobbyist Stephanie Toothaker told a Fort Lauderdale audience Monday night, “and it does not rely on any commercial development on public property to fund any programming.”

Beckham’s Fort Lauderdale pitch — he and partner Jorge Mas held a press conference at Lockhart’s overgrown grounds last week — offers an unusual chance to see a would-be stadium developer offer another stadium plan to a nearby government in real time.

Miami’s city commission last week also approved a fall deadline for negotiating a final stadium deal with Beckham for the park that currently houses the Melreese golf course. It sits near Miami International Airport.

After Miami voters authorized the negotiations in November, the Beckham group triggered the Fort Lauderdale contest by submitting an unsolicited proposal for the Lockhart site.

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Fort Lauderdale’s boarded-up Lockhart Stadium was once home to a professional soccer team. It could again if Fort Lauderdale agrees to let the David Beckham group or a rival, FXE Futbol, redevelop the stadium. BY DOUGLAS HANKS

Fort Lauderdale commissioners voted to launch negotiations with the Beckham group instead of FXE. The vote means Fort Lauderdale will be negotiating a stadium deal with lead partner Mas at the same time Miami is negotiating with Mas for its stadium deal. The Beckham group said it plans to spend more than $60 million on the project.

The Beckham group says it wants two stadiums in order to base the team and its training facilities in Broward, while the MLS franchise, Club Internacional de Fútbol, would play its 17 home games in Miami.

Along with practice for its regular players, the Lockhart complex would house the team’s development program, where soccer players in their teens would train for a possible MLS slot.

Beckham’s Fort Lauderdale rival wanted to bring a minor-league soccer team to Lockhart full time, and build restaurants, shops and entertainment options such as Top Golf around the grounds to turn the stadium into a year-round destination.

“You can have dinner before the game, or dinner after the game. Even during the day ... there will be a lot of things to when there are no events happening” in the stadium, said J.P. Reynal, managing partner of FXE Fútbol. “It’s a very intensive jobs generator for the community.”

Beckham had been scouting training sites in Miami-Dade, though the Melreese was publicly downplayed as a possibility. The site was never considered large enough to accommodate the pro stadium, 400,000 square feet of office, 600,000 square feet of retail and entertainment, and a training facility.

By building the training stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Beckham would put the team’s home base in Broward, along with the jobs that come with a pro franchise’s team support services.

“This is where every single star that gets signed by this team will be covered by global media outlets on a daily basis,” Jurgen Mainka, the Beckham team’s chief business officer, said after Tuesday’s public meeting on the Lockhart proposals at Fort Lauderdale City Hall. “Fort Lauderdale, becomes, really, the base for that daily operation.”

Mainka said Tuesday that the team’s front office, including business operations and ticketing, would be housed in Miami. Operations connected to the athletes would be in Fort Lauderdale. The team itself would play its inaugural season at Lockhart, too, since even the most optimistic timetables don’t have the Miami stadium built before 2022.

The proposed Miami Freedom Park stadium complex would be home to thousands of jobs as one of the city’s newest shopping centers and office complexes. The Beckham group predicts 11,000 people would work there, and the complex is forecast to generate about $40 million a year in local taxes.

While the Beckham group touted its proposed Miami Freedom Park as a jobs creator and boon to the Miami-Dade economy, in Fort Lauderdale the plan involves keeping the Lockhart site largely undeveloped.

“There’s always going to be a tension between green parks, parks space and jobs,” Pablo Alvarez, general counsel for the Beckham team, told an audience member Tuesday who asked about the economic impact of the group’s Lockhart plan. “If the city of Fort Lauderdale wanted to create jobs, they’d turn it into a mall or office space. That’s not what they want to do with this facility.”

The Beckham group plans to pay for converting portions of both stadium sites into new park space for the two cities that own them. Fort Lauderdale would get 20 acres at Lockhart and Miami would get 56 acres at the 180-acre Melreese site. Miami also has a rule against losing park space citywide, but no plan has been submitted on how to replace the remaining Melreese acreage that would be used by the Beckham project.

Alvarez noted the Beckham plan would transform a city-owned golf course that costs Miami residents $90 for a weekend round into park space that would be free to use.

“If you want to access what they claim to be a park, you have to pay for your round of golf. So it’s closed,” he said. “It’s the site of an old incinerator plant. We’re coming in and turning what’s today basically a fenced-off country club ... into a destination. That destination includes 56 acres of public park that doesn’t exist today, that we’re going to pay for.”

Even the finances on community soccer fields get complicated when switching between the Miami and Fort Lauderdale proposals.

FXE proposed charging fees for the public to play on seven professional-level soccer fields, while use of two public fields would be free.

Alvarez said that in Miami, the Beckham group plans to create new soccer fields that the public would need to pay to use, while the community in Fort Lauderdale would have free but limited access to new fields at Lockhart.

The Melreese fields would sit atop parking garages needed for the Freedom Park complex. Alvarez said people would need to pay to use those soccer fields, just as leagues rent fields at city and county parks across Miami-Dade.

“In Miami, those ... are available to the public. On the parking garages. Meaning they have to go in, they have to register to play, pay to play,” Alvarez said. “There has to be security. There has to be insurance. But they’re available.”

Asked if someone could come and kick a soccer ball around for free on those fields, he said that kind of use would be available in the Melreese land the Beckham group will transform into open parkland for the city.

“You can go kick a soccer ball around in the 56 acres we’re developing for free for the city of Miami,” he said.

Jorge Mas and David Beckham discuss proposal to play 2020, 2021 seasons at Lockhart Stadium. Courtesy Inter Miami

Alvarez said the Beckham group does not plan to charge the public for use of the seven ground-level soccer fields it wants to build in Fort Lauderdale at Lockhart. But access would be limited since those fields would be used regularly for the “Inter Miami” training squads.

When field time is available, the Beckham group would allow the community to use them for free.

“We’re going to work with the city of Fort Lauderdale to accommodate, when the team is not playing and the grass is not resting, community events and community activities at no charge,” Alvarez said. “The other proposal has seven fields that are ‘accessible’ to the community. When you see the word ‘accessible,’ that means you have to pay.”

Miami Herald staff writer Joey Flechas contributed to this report.

This post was updated to include the Beckham group’s statement that the front office of its Major League Soccer franchise would be located in Miami, while team operations would be in Fort Lauderdale.