Michelle Kaufman

Beckham group can learn from Orlando City’s success

After a year of near-silence on the Miami Major League Soccer project, David Beckham’s partner and chief negotiator Tim Leiweke had plenty to say on Wednesday night at a town hall meeting in Overtown, a few blocks from where Beckham plans to build a 25,000-seat stadium.

Leiweke updated the overflow crowd on the status of the land purchase, unveiled a drawing of the proposed open-air stadium, promised Overtown residents the stadium would be “an economic engine” that would provide jobs and urban regeneration, and addressed neighborhood concerns over parking, traffic, pollution and noise.

By the end of the two-hour meeting, 41 community members had stepped to the microphone to voice views ranging from staunch support to cautious optimism to skepticism to strong opposition.

“I think it’s good to have community outreach; we’re learning something new every time,” Leiweke said after the meeting. “For the most part, people were positive. But there’s always going to be people that just don’t want change and don’t want anything in their backyard.

“And I know there are always going to be cave people — citizens against virtually everything. We’ll do the best we can. We’re not going to please everyone. We get that. But the majority of the people, especially in the Overtown community, are going to positively benefit from this and that’s what we heard [at the meeting]. It makes me feel we’re getting to the right place, finally.”

If all goes as planned, he said, the stadium would be “up and running” for the 2021 season, but the team would likely play earlier — maybe as early as 2019 — in a temporary venue. The stadium would host roughly 20 MLS games, 10 international matches, and 10 music events that would require community approval. (“We’re not going to do raves,” Leiweke said.)

Beckham’s group remains optimistic, despite the critics and all the hurdles over the past three years. They envision thousands of multicultural fans in Miami soccer jerseys marching together along the Miami Riverwalk to the stadium on game days, similar to the March to the Match before Seattle Sounders games.

“For our March to the Match, we’re looking hard at the Riverwalk, making improvements there,” Leiweke said. “We think that’s an identity, a brand unique to Miami, and could be known worldwide as the way our fan club gets into the stadium. We’re going to think out of the box here. What we’re not going to do is build huge monster garages that bring all the cars right to the stadium and interrupt the neighborhood.”

They picture fans parking in 5,000 available spots in surrounding county/city and All Aboard train station lots, being shuttled to the games and patronizing neighborhood pop-up businesses. They picture packed Metrorail trains on game days, like they were for Heat games when the Heat played at Miami Arena. They figure some fans will arrive via taxi, Uber and Lyft.

They even picture (brace yourself) river taxis delivering fans by boat.

For inspiration, they look north to Orlando, where MLS team Orlando City this season is selling out a new 25,500-seat stadium shoehorned into the middle of Parramore, a poor historically black community between Orange Blossom Trail and Interstate 4 in downtown Orlando.

Beckham’s group hired global architecture firm Populous to design the Miami stadium, the same company that did the Orlando City stadium. The Orlando stadium has no on-site parking garages, making use of nearby public lots and public transport.

Orlando City has made significant efforts to be a good neighbor, employing Parramore residents for construction and stadium jobs; hosting farmer’s markets for local residents; building a six-panel Parramore History Wall the honors leaders and historic events from the neighborhood; honoring a different Parramore business at each game; and providing guest-readers and volunteers for a neighborhood school.

The team also partnered with local youth organizations (as Beckham’s group says it will do with the Overtown Youth Coalition), created community gardens and soccer fields and sponsored turkey giveaways at Thanksgiving and backpack giveaways for back-to-school.

At the stadium ribbon-cutting on Feb. 24, commissioner Regina Hall told the crowd: “Today I walked in and I got a little overwhelmed … tears started to flow down my cheeks. This is the day, when we cut this ribbon, that little girls and boys [who] dwell outside this soccer stadium will be introduced to a magnificent sport called soccer that will give them opportunities outside of Parramore.”

J. Henry, whose barber shop is across Church Street from the Orlando City Stadium, told the Orlando Sentinel that he picked up new clients from the construction crews, and hopes to get more from stadium crowds.

“Before that stadium was built, that was a vacant lot over there and a retention pond,” Henry said. “Change is always good. You just have to embrace the change.”

Officials have held regular community meetings to address the concerns of locals.

“There were some very feisty, interesting meetings and definitely opposition, but I think we’ve shown that we’re in this for the long haul,” club co-founder Kay Rawlins told the Sentinel. “We just kept showing up, and we kept listening.”

Leiweke says Beckham’s group will do the same.

“This is all about Miami,” he said. “This is one of the top-10 markets in the United States, the only top-10 marketplace MLS is not in. How do we have a great league if we don’t have Miami? How do we make this league a worldwide success if we don’t have Miami? This is about Miami.”

Who’s leading

EPL: Chelsea (90), Tottenham (83), Manchester City (75), Liverpool (73), Arsenal (72).

La Liga: Real Madrid (90), Barcelona (87), Atletico Madrid (75), Sevilla (69), Villarreal (64).

Serie A: Juventus (85), Roma (81), Napoli (80), Lazio (70), Atalanta (66).

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (79), Leipzig (66), Dortmund and Hoffenheim (61), Hertha (49).

Ligue 1: Monaco (92), PSG (86), Nice (77), Lyon (66), Marseilles (59).

NASL: Miami (14), San Francisco and NY (12), Carolina (11), Jacksonville (10).

MLS: East — Toronto (25), Orlando City (20), Columbus (19). West — KC (22), Houston and Dallas (19), Portland (18).

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