Miami Marlins wield big legal bat in Miami soccer stadium deal

David Beckham, center, stands with the MLS commissioner Don Garber, left, and Miami Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, right, at the official news conference at Perez Art Museum Miami to announce a new MLS soccer team that Beckham want to bring to Miami. Beckham would be the principal owner.
David Beckham, center, stands with the MLS commissioner Don Garber, left, and Miami Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, right, at the official news conference at Perez Art Museum Miami to announce a new MLS soccer team that Beckham want to bring to Miami. Beckham would be the principal owner. El Nuevo Herald staff

The biggest hurdle to building a new soccer stadium next to Marlins Park might be the Marlins themselves.

Provisions deep in the Marlins’ 2009 lengthy legal agreement with Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami give the baseball team significant control over the design and even the operation of a proposed new stadium built just west of the controversial ballpark.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, who has been in talks with the David Beckham-led group trying to bring a Major League Soccer team to South Florida, acknowledged Friday that the Marlins — who began play at the taxpayer-built retractible roof stadium in 2012 — will have a say in what is placed next to the ballpark where the Orange Bowl once stood.

“The Marlins have to be part of the conversation, that is for sure. But that has always been the case,” said Regalado, who consulted with city lawyers after a story in detailed the extensive checklist that the ballclub would need to approve.

Still, Regalado said, “I think that all of these issues can be solved with the Marlins and the Beckham group.”

Not only would the Marlins and Major League Baseball have complete priority on the dates and times in which events could be held, but the Marlins would have veto power in a naming rights deal as well as advertising inside the soccer stadium.

According to the lease, a new soccer stadium must be built in a way that is “architecturally harmonious with the Baseball Stadium” with no “highly reflective materials” facing Marlins Park.

The soccer team would basically also have to have its own naming rights deal approved by the Marlins. The soccer stadium couldn’t have a sponsor which has a business conflict with the one paying the Marlins (such as competing airlines or soda makers).

Although the Marlins don’t have a corporate sponsor for the ballpark yet, team president David Samson said he expects that to be in place by the time the team hosts the 2017 All-Star Game.

But if the Marlins were to change that sponsor and their new one conflicted with the soccer team’s, the soccer team would be the ones who have to change. The soccer team also couldn’t have advertising inside its stadium — as long as it can be seen from the outside – which conflicts with the Marlins’ major sponsors. The lease names a “major sponsor” as anyone who spends $500,000 a year to advertise with the Marlins.

Marlins Park, despite not having a corporate name, does have large signage on the building advertising Pepsi and Miccosukee Gaming.

“Welcome to the Marlins deal,”' Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez told the Joe Rose Show on WQAM-560. “I've been saying this is a dumb deal for seven years. The Marlins control a lot of what happens there … just about everything.”

The extent of the baseball team’s authority over a soccer stadium, though negotiated just six years ago, caught county and city leaders off guard. But they point out planning is still in the early stages. Whether or not — and how — the Marlins plan to enforce their contractual rights remains to be seen. The baseball team also could stand to profit from a new neighbor drawing additional crowds and creating, among other things, more parking revenue or future restaurants on the ballpark site.

Gimenez told the Miami Herald he intended to look further into the implications of lease on any deal.

“Will the Marlins be agreeable to amend the agreement in order to make it easier? You’ll have to speak to the Marlins,” he said. “The Marlins are in the catbird seat.”

The Marlins declined comment through spokesman P.J. Loyello.

The Beckham group, which is officially known as ‘Miami Beckham United’ and includes Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure and British entrepreneur Simon Fuller, has political support from both the city and county.

MBU spokesman Aaron Gordon said the Beckham group has not yet begun negotiations with the Marlins.

“We are taking things one step at a time,”' Gordon said. “At this point, our only focus is negotiations with the city.”

At City Hall on Friday, Regalado discussed the soccer stadium with Rafael de Guzman, an associate of Claure. De Guzman declined to comment, but Regalado said discussions had nothing to do with the Marlins.

“He had a lot of questions about utilities, about right-of-way, about footprint,” Regalado said. “Things that they do need to formalize a design. And then when he left we said the administration is going to respond to them in the next week with all the things that they want.

“The city already ordered an appraisal of the land. So that means we’re moving forward.”

Beckham’s group said it will build what is expected to be a 25,000 seat stadium with private dollars. The city of Miami is expected to provide the land although the county could own it thereby freeing the soccer team of paying taxes on it.

A baseball diamond, Marlins Park surface parking and a few private residences are on the site just west of where the ballpark resides.

Beckham and his partners have three months to secure a stadium agreement in Miami in order to be granted an MLS franchise at a discounted rate of $25 million optioned to Beckham when he signed to play with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007.

Beckham, who retired as a player in 2013, announced his intentions to bring a team to Miami last year. His original hopes to build a waterfront stadium near or in downtown fell through leading him to the land next to Marlins Park.

Miami Herald staff writers David Smiley and Chuck Rabin contributed to this report.