David Beckham's Soccer Club Tries To Win Over Miami While Flirting With Fort Lauderdale
David Beckham's new Major League Soccer team, Inter Miami, has gone through a lot — multiple proposed-then-nixed stadium sites, a key public vote, legal challenges and scads of political battles — to get where it is now: negotiating to build a 25,000-seat stadium and $1B mixed-use project on a city-owned golf course.
In the meantime, because the team is scheduled to start playing in 10 months, it went to Fort Lauderdale for permission to redevelop that city's Lockhart Stadium to use for pro matches for the first two years and for training after that.
This divvying up of team operations has upset some Miamians who fought for the team to be based there, expecting more than just 18 or so pro games per year. So now Beckham's group is in an awkward position of convincing Miami it is still its No. 1 city while Fort Lauderdale's lipstick is all over its collar — lest the whole Miami deal fall through.
Whereas the Miami negotiations have been marked by careful maneuvering, the team was easily welcomed in Fort Lauderdale. Mayor Dean Trantalis was in a celebratory mood at a Bisnow conference last week, the morning after his Fort Lauderdale City Commission voted to move forward in talks with Beckham's team rather than a rival soccer startup that has long wanted the space — and feels Beckham's group undercut it.
“David Beckham has landed!” Trantalis said in his opening statement to the audience. "Fort Lauderdale is going to be the center of soccer. We’re so pleased and so happy that the commission unanimously voted to make that happen."
Now, a week after winning approval in Fort Lauderdale, Inter Miami is tackling its next big obstacle: the Miami City Commission. The commission is expected to vote on lease terms by September.
Jorge Mas, the managing partner and lead investor behind Beckham’s franchise, spoke to Magic City Soccer on Monday about plans for the publicly owned Melreese Country Club site.
Mas faces an uphill task at the Miami City Commission, where Inter Miami appears to be one vote short for approval of his plans. Commissioner Manolo Reyes has been one of the primary critics of the deal, and if he votes against the project, the final decision may rest with Willy Gort, whose district includes Melreese and surrounding neighborhoods.
In Monday’s interview with Magic City Soccer, Mas appealed to the commissioners directly, detailing how the team has been hosting focus groups and community meetings to gauge concerns in their districts. He also reminded them of the election result last November: Miami voters overwhelmingly supported the city entering into negotiations for the Melreese site without having to consider competing bids.
Mas framed the project at Melreese, dubbed Miami Freedom Park, as an “economic engine” for the city. He cited the importance of his fellow investors in the franchise, who include Masayoshi Son and Marcelo Claure, the CEO and chief operating officer of SoftBank, respectively. SoftBank controls significant stakes in Uber and WeWork, through its Vision Fund, the world’s largest tech and private equity fund.
“What we are trying to develop at Miami Freedom Park is a technology hub that can be the home of the creative minds of young men and women in South Florida, that can establish high-paying jobs,” Mas said.
The franchise claims that Miami Freedom Park would result in $44M in annual tax revenue to local governments. Mas also defended the decision to play their first two years at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, which will house the team’s youth academy and technical headquarters. That site would also host Miami’s USL League One affiliate, which would play in the American third division of soccer.
Inter Miami negotiators committed to branding the affiliate team with a Fort Lauderdale identity. Different iterations of a pro team called the Fort Lauderdale Strikers have played at Lockhart on-and-off since the late 1970s.
“We’ve been in conversation with those involved with the Strikers brand,” Mas said. “We want to be very respectful to the history. We have some very cool ideas.”
Hours after Mas spoke with Magic City Soccer, an opponent of the stadium deal, Miami-based attorney William Douglas Muir, filed a fresh court challenge. He had already sued, alleging that the city of Miami should not have been allowed to negotiate a closed-bid deal for Miami Freedom Park. He lost that challenge, but is now appealing.