Soccer

After 1,952 days, Beckham doesn’t have a Miami deal. Fort Lauderdale took nine weeks

David Beckham announces name, logo for new MLS team in Miami

Former soccer star David Beckham announced that his new MLS team will be called Inter Miami, and he talks about what went into creating the team's logo.
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Former soccer star David Beckham announced that his new MLS team will be called Inter Miami, and he talks about what went into creating the team's logo.

David Beckham and his partners have spent 278 weeks trying to bring Major League Soccer to Miami-Dade County. It took Fort Lauderdale 64 days to give them permission to start work on a stadium site.

Fort Lauderdale’s city commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to let the Beckham group begin demolition work on Lockhart Stadium. The former soccer stadium sits on city land that the partners want for a training facility and a new 18,000-seat exhibition stadium.

Just nine weeks have passed since Beckham’s Inter Miami MLS franchise proposed the plan, and the city vote was the first time a South Florida government granted the partnership permission to begin moving dirt on a stadium site.

“We are all hands on deck — city staff and the commission — to expedite this,” said City Commissioner Ben Sorensen, who also serves as Fort Lauderdale’s vice mayor. “Last night was a big deal.”

The swift win in Fort Lauderdale fell on Day 1,952 of Beckham’s stadium quest in Miami-Dade. It officially began on Nov. 27, 2013, when the office of county Mayor Carlos Gimenez confirmed one of Miami’s worst-kept secrets: that Beckham wanted to negotiate with Miami-Dade to build an MLS stadium at PortMiami.

Lockhart Stadium Inter Miami
The David Beckham group’s rendering of a new Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, where Inter Miami would play its first two seasons in Major League Soccer while its permanent home stadium is completed near Miami International Airport. Courtesy Inter Miami

Weeks later, Beckham was on stage with Gimenez and MLS Commissioner Don Garber celebrating the future of soccer in Miami. But the deal was declared dead on May 20, 2014, when county commissioners bowed to pressure from the cruise industry and rejected the port as a stadium site.

That vote was the first of many setbacks for Beckham and his team of lobbyists, lawyers and publicists who are still trying to nail down a stadium agreement in a political arena where sports teams are often popular punching bags.

“It requires an infinite amount of patience, and in many cases an absence of logic,” said former Marlins president David Samson on the pursuit of a stadium deal in Miami.

Samson successfully negotiated a 2009 agreement with Miami and Miami-Dade that had both governments contribute most of the money for a $639 million ballpark that brought Major League Baseball to Little Havana. It became one of the most unpopular votes in recent memory by the two governments, and the Beckham group has promoted its stadium plan as the foil of Marlins Park.

Beckham still needs demolition permits and a formal stadium agreement in Fort Lauderdale, which would be home to the franchise’s training camp and youth academy while the squad play its games in Miami.

The Beckham group had tried to bring the training camp complex to a public park in Miami-Dade, but balked at a rule in the county charter requiring a referendum. With the Miami negotiations for Melreese still under way, the Beckham group plans to play its debut MLS season in Fort Lauderdale in 2020, and then come back in 2021. It hopes to have a Miami stadium ready to go by 2022.

MLS Miami
Don Garber, commissioner of Major League Soccer (left), joins David Beckham and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez to formally launch the league’s bid for a Beckham-fronted Miami franchise on Feb. 5, 2014. Hector Gabino El Nuevo Herald

“I don’t think they’re panicking,” said Xavier Suarez, a former Miami mayor and current county commissioner representing part of the city. His son, Francis Suarez, is the city’s current mayor. “They seem to be on their way.”

The Beckham partnership did not respond to interview requests Wednesday.

In a referendum last fall, Miami voters approved waiving city bidding rules for Beckham but city commissioners still must approve a deal. Because other developers can’t bid on the land, the stadium agreement requires four of the five city commissioners to vote for it. That’s added to the political lift for a soccer group that has already abandoned some high-profile stadium fights in favor of a new Miami location miles away.

The shortest bid lasted just 36 days, when the Beckham group briefly pursued a stadium next to the Heat’s home at AmericanAirlines Arena. Both the city and the county suggested the basin next to the arena as the port possibility collapsed, but then-Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado publicly declared “the slip is off the table” on June 11, 2014.

After a year of mostly behind-the-scenes activity, the Beckham group in July 2015 switched to a mix of city and private land next to Marlins Park. That fell apart by December when the soccer partnership announced a new preferred home: a mix of county and private land in Overtown. Miami-Dade commissioners approved a $9 million land sale for the stadium in June 2017, but the transaction stalled when the Beckham group switched to a different site.

In the fall of 2017, MasTec chairman Jorge Mas and brother José, MasTec’s CEO, joined the Beckham partnership as the first local investors and began shifting the group away from Overtown. Last July, the Beckham group made it official by proposing a stadium, mall, hotel and commercial complex at Melreese.

It’s not clear whether the Beckham lobbying squad can secure the four votes needed on the Miami commission. That could leave Fort Lauderdale as a potential alternative for an MLS home — and that wouldn’t be a first.

In 1998, an MLS franchise called the Miami Fusion was poised to launch its debut season in Miami’s Orange Bowl.

But team owner Ken Horowitz quarreled with the mayor at the time, Joe Carollo. The franchise ended up heading north to strike a deal with Fort Lauderdale. The city offered them a new home: Lockhart Stadium, and the team bearing Miami’s name played there until 2001, when a struggling MLS pulled out of Fort Lauderdale.

Carollo left office in 2001. Now he sits on the Miami City Commission again, a potential swing vote in deciding the Melreese agreement. He doesn’t have fond memories of his last go-around with a soccer team.

“I said you’re going to fail in Broward,” Carollo recalled in a recent interview. “That’s what happened.”

This article was updated to insert the correct year the Miami Fusion was in talks with Miami. It was 1998.

Doug Hanks covers Miami-Dade government for the Herald. He’s worked at the paper for nearly 20 years, covering real estate, tourism and the economy before joining the Metro desk in 2014.
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