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Miami Voters to Decide Fate of David Beckham Soccer Stadium

Divided City Commission Agrees to a Referendum on $1 Billion Mixed-Use Development
July 18, 2018

Soccer icon David Beckham wasn’t in the house Wednesday, but business partner Jorge Mas finally persuaded Miami city commissioners to let voters decide whether Beckham can build a 25,000-seat stadium and entertainment complex on a city-owned golf course.

After nearly nine hours of public comment and sometimes-heated discussion on July 12, the Miami City Commission postponed the matter for six days, a delay that ultimately proved beneficial for Beckham and Mas.

Satisfied that Miami would get a fair deal and not be on the hook for environmental cleanup costs, Commissioner Ken Russell cast the swing vote Wednesday in favor of putting the issue on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The 3-2 decision following the all-day meeting means voters will have their say about whether the city should change its rules and negotiate a no-bid deal with Beckham and Mas to lease about 73 acres at Melreese Country Club for a $1 billion, privately-funded development known as Miami Freedom Park.

Aside from the soccer stadium, the project at 1400 NW 37th Ave. near Miami International Airport would have 1 million square feet of retail, entertainment and offices and 750 hotel rooms.

The pedestrian-friendly project would generate more than $40 million annually in tax revenue and create 11,000 construction and 2,300 permanent jobs, Mas said.

"We want to earn your trust," Mas told commissioners immediately after the vote.

Major League Soccer awarded Beckham’s group a franchise in January, nearly two decades after South Florida’s last MLS team, the Miami Fusion, folded. Officials expect the new team to begin play in 2020 at a temporary facility until the new stadium is complete the following year.

The Beckham group owns land in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood but has determined that site is too small for a stadium.

Courtesy: City of Miami

David Beckham addresses the Miami City Commission in a meeting last week.

Last week, after dozens of people spoke for and against the stadium, Beckham and Mas addressed the commission, promising to build a facility that would honor past and future generations of Miamians.

“We’re good people,” Beckham said. “We’re trying to do the right thing. We want to do the right thing by your children and your children’s children.”

Mas repeatedly assured commissioners and residents that the venture would not require public tax dollars, unlike the deal the Miami Marlins struck with local governments nine years ago.

The City of Miami and Miami-Dade County agreed to pick up most of the tab for a new baseball stadium. The ballpark cost almost $500 million in taxpayer money and remains a sore subject in the community today.

Mas has provided few specifics on the commercial uses surrounding the stadium, but he told commissioners that he’d like to lease space to local retail vendors as well as office tenants for corporate headquarters.

But some South Florida real estate observers are skeptical about those other uses in the proposed development.

Jonathan Kingsley, an executive vice president of Colliers International South Florida, said he can’t see the logic in building offices on the land.

He noted that offices are a poor fit next to a stadium that hosts soccer and other events. He said the Waterford at Blue Lagoon business park 20 blocks west of Melreese is an established and far better office location.

“I don’t see a natural benefit or opportunity for that location to be a successful office development site,” Kingsley said. “It’s something from a fundamental development standpoint that does not seem to make a whole lot of sense.”

Devlin Marinoff, managing partner of DWNTWN Realty Advisors in Miami, agrees that offices would be a challenge near the airport. He said the bulk of the demand for offices in Miami-Dade County is in the downtown corridor and the Wynwood neighborhood.

Marinoff also thinks it’s risky to build retail there, saying shoppers would be more inclined to go to the malls rather than a retail development several miles west of downtown.

“You have to be careful about overbuilding,” he said.

National retailers such as Toys R Us and Sports Authority have gone out of business and many other chains are struggling to survive in this era of e-commerce, making retail the softest part of the commercial real estate industry, said Rebel Cook, a broker in Palm Beach County.

“It’s scary,” Cook said. “Shopping centers are becoming other entities. They’re not staying retail.”

Russell met with Mas to iron out more details after Thursday’s postponement, but the commissioner said early in Wednesday’s meeting that he was still struggling with the issue after receiving hundreds of phone calls and emails from constituents.

He pressed Mas for specific lease terms, saying he likely would not get another opportunity to exercise such leverage.

“It was so much easier just to say no,” he admitted.

Commissioners Keon Hardemon and Joe Carollo joined Russell in approving the referendum.

Commissioners Willy Gort and Manolo Reyes voted against the measure. They spoke out about what they said was a lack of transparency on the part of the Beckham group. Reyes also criticized city staffers, saying they didn’t properly vet the proposal before putting it before the commission.

Paul Owers, South Florida Market Reporter  CoStar Group   
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