Greg Cote

Beckham’s soccer odyssey sees latest detour from Inter Miami to Interim Fort Lauderdale | Opinion

David Beckham announces plans to bring MLS team to Miami

Soccer icon David Beckham officially announces plans to bring an MLS team to Miami on Feb. 5, 2014.
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Soccer icon David Beckham officially announces plans to bring an MLS team to Miami on Feb. 5, 2014.

David Beckham’s baby is experiencing the longest gestation in the history of birth.

Somehow, somewhere and ready or not, Inter Miami will be playing games in Major League Soccer in less than one year — less than 10 months, if you include preseason matches.

The team had better be instant league champions for it to have been worth the wait. And the bureaucracy, the disappointments in settling on a site, the political morass and the enemies made.

I don’t know that any professional sports team more than Inter Miami has ever climbed uphill longer, cleared more hurdles or overcome more acrimony to get from conception to its first game.

That tangible startup next January will conclude an incubation of six years since Beckham first revealed his dream at a Feb. 5, 2014, news conference held with Biscayne Bay as a glistening postcard backdrop.

“Today, professional soccer in Miami is a reality,” proclaimed Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Giminez that day.

Well, technically, “in Miamii” will be a reality in 2022, probably. Or perhaps 2023 at the latest.

That’s because Club Internacional de Futbol — Inter Miami for short — will be Interim Fort Lauderdale for the franchise’s first two seasons, assuming a new 18,000-seat stadium where ghostly Lockhart Stadium now sits a relic, can be built in less than a year. The move to Inter Miami’s permanent stadium, controversially planned for the Melreese golf course site near Miami International Airport, is set for 2022, assuming it too is completed on schedule.

(Is it cynical to imagine the odds against any major construction project actually being completed on schedule in South Florida?)

I recall that gorgeous day when Beckham, Giminez and MLS commissioner Don Garber stood to announce Beckham had been granted rights to a Miami expansion team.

A prop plane circled overhead pulling a banner that read, BECKHAM, DON’T TRUST GIMINEZ.

It might have been a foreboding harbinger informing Beckham, the British former soccer star and heartthrob, that in Miami, nothing comes easily, or fast, or without a thicket of red tape to scissor through.

The original hope was that the Miami MLS team would begin play in the 2017 season. So it has only taken exactly twice as long as first imagined.

Beckham envisioned a picturesque seaside stadium on the southwest corner of the port of Miami. That dream dead, they soon found themselves negotiating a site in Overtown. That notion dashed, they won approval to displace popular Melreese — over the loud and organized objections of Melrees golfers, kids who play there and their angry parents.

Beckham and ownership frontman Jorge Mas won a referendum vote approving their stadium plan. The vote in turn won a judge’s ruling overturning a lawsuit to invalidate the referendum, still leaving many upset that the city approved a no-bid deal for the “Miami Freedom Park complex of which the stadium is just a part.

With a temporary home needed, Marlins Park was a logical choice but said no because the MLS and MLB seasons are close to concurrent. Hard Rock Stadium, too big, stopped being an option when it took on the Miami Open tennis tournament now underway. FIU Stadium would have worked, but talks never really took off.

So suddenly, an Inter Miami team that was all about the 3-0-5 and embracing Miami’s diversity turned to Broward County, disappointing many fans.

And there was Beckham earlier this month — a friend of the Royal Family who vacations with Elton John — standing in front of chest-tall weeds at Lockhart Stadium trying hard not to convey a what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here look on his face.

The Becks cache’ is still money in the bank, however. The Fort Lauderdale city commission voted 5-0 to award the new Lockhart Stadium to Beckham’s group instead of competing group FXE Futbol, which had been angling for the site much longer and felt Beckham/Mas swooped in and undercut them.

Mas said he will pay for the proposed $60 million new Lockhart Stadium himself.

(Dear Jorge: Have the golden-shovel photo shoot and break ground fast. Unless the new Lockhart will be made of Lego blocks, nine months ain’t much time to build a stadium).

The best option would have been to find a Miami-Dade site for the temporary home, but the Lockhart site certainly makes sense from an historic vantage. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers did very well there from 1977 to 1983, when the North American Soccer League failed more than the local team did. South Florida’s first iteration in MLS, the Miami Fusion, called Lockhart home from 1998 to 2001, failing for ownership reasons more than for lack of fan support.

A Miami team playing its first two seasons in Fort Lauderdale will inconvenience some Dade-based fans, but will also give the team, two years to win over more Broward fans than it otherwise might. The Lockhart site and the eventual Melreese site are some 35 miles apart, no quick hop, although most MLS games are Saturdays, so at least rush hour traffic won’t be a big factor.

Fans in either county fretting over that distance between temporary and permanent sites will have to ask themselves how badly they want Major League Soccer to succeed down here.

They will have had six long years to consider the question.

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