Slow Your Roll, David Beckham: Critics Vow To Fight His Miami Soccer Stadium Plan
After four years of false starts and a surprising last-minute injection of cash, David Beckham and his business partners announced Monday that Major League Soccer awarded them a new franchise and that a team will launch in Miami in 2020.
But despite confetti guns that blasted during the announcement, a dozen-plus celebrities congratulating Beckham in video clips and Diddy offering to be the goalie, there is still a legal challenge to securing the land for a stadium, and some neighbors are vowing to fight the project every step of the way.
Beckham described the frustrations of making the team a reality when he took the stage during Monday’s rally at the Arsht Center in downtown Miami.
“There have been moments I got off a phone call and I’m excited, and it’s happening, and I wake up the next morning and it’s all gone,” he said.
After a legendary career in Europe, Beckham came to the U.S. in 2007 to play for the LA Galaxy for five years. His deal gave him the option to buy a soccer team at the discount price of $25M. Expansion teams now cost $150M.
In 2011, Beckham’s business partner, "American Idol" creator Simon Fuller, was at a dinner at the Los Angeles home of Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony. There he met Marcelo Clure, a Bolivian-American telecom exec, who in 2014 became CEO of Sprint. They talked about Beckham’s idea to start a team in Miami.
“I told him I shared the same dream,” Clure said during Monday’s event.
In fact, Clure had been part of an unsuccessful 2008 bid to bring an MLS team to Miami. South Florida had already had an MLS team, Fusion, that played at a Fort Lauderdale site from 1997 to 2002.
In 2013, Fuller called Clure to say that Beckham was ready. In February 2014, the soccer stars and his investors, organized under the name Miami Beckham United, announced that they would put a team in Miami and it would be playing by 2016 or 2017. But a proposal for a waterfront stadium near PortMiami fell through, as did plans for a site in Little Havana near the Miami Marlins’ baseball stadium.
The investment group then bought 6 acres for $19M in the historically black community of Overtown, but still needed 3 acres from Miami-Dade County to assemble its parcel. The county commission in June approved that sale for $9M. But a lawsuit created another obstacle.
Bruce Matheson is from a pioneering Miami family that had donated the 800-acre Crandon Park to Miami-Dade county in 1940, with the stipulation that it be for public use only. After the county began hosting major tennis tournaments there, Matheson began a decades-long legal battle to keep out corporate interests, and eventually in 2016, "singlehandedly killed the Miami Open," as the Miami New Times put it.
When Matheson learned of Miami-Dade County’s deal with Beckham’s group, he sued, alleging that the county had failed to solicit competitive bids for the land as required by state statute. The county contended that another provision in the law allowed it to offer no-bid deals for economic development. In October, Judge Rodolfo Ruiz sided with the county.
According to the Miami Herald, Ruiz reasoned aloud during a hearing that it would not make sense to lure companies like Amazon with development proposals, only to then open up parcels to bid. But he conceded that the final decision would ultimately be made by a higher court.
“I found this to be an extremely challenging decision,” Ruiz said. “Brighter minds than me will tell me whether I was right or wrong.”
Matheson is appealing. His attorney, Enrique Arana, said that their initial brief is due to be filed in the 3rd District Court of Appeal by Feb. 12.
“After that, the county will file a response brief,” Arana wrote in an email. “The appellate court will likely hear oral argument from the parties before it decides the appeal. No oral argument has been scheduled yet.”
Arana works at Carlton Fields, the same firm where Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and his sister work as attorneys. Suarez supports the stadium and was onstage during Monday’s announcement.
As the saga churned during the fall, Beckham’s majority investor, Todd Boehly, co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, backed out. Beckham was ready to concede that his dream of bringing a Major League Soccer team to Miami was dead. He flew to New York to meet Claure.
Claure told the Arsht Center crowd, "About 60 days ago, we were done. We gave up. We were not going to do this. So we met with David for breakfast at a hotel in New York pretty much to say goodbye. And then we looked at each other and said, 'Man, we just cannot give up. We have to find a way to bring soccer to Miami.'"
Meanwhile, Miami builders Jorge and Jose Mas, whose MasTec Construction builds major projects like power plants and oil pipelines, had spent much of 2017 bidding to buy the Miami Marlins baseball team. They lost out to a team of investors led by Derek Jeter. Mas said Monday that some of the bankers who had been involved with his Marlins bid were also involved with the effort to get an MLS team and he had been contacted by MLS Commissioner Don Garber. Nov. 7, Mas sent an email to Claure inquiring about getting involved.
After meeting with Beckham, Claure contacted Mas. Within days, the newly inspired group of investors was meeting with Garber at a New Jersey restaurant laying out possible frameworks for a new partnership.
Claure told the crowd Monday that he also called his boss — Masayoshi Son, the chairman of Sprint Corp. and CEO of SoftBank — and asked, “Do you want in?’ I thought he was going to say, ‘Send me a business plan.’”
Instead, he became an investor, too. The group scrambled to get approved by the MLS and arrange the press conference celebrating the new ownership. They said that the Overtown parcel remains their intended site.
Beckham’s group has “the absolute right to purchase the final properties," Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Monday. "We don’t believe that lawsuit will go very far.”
Asked whether there was a Plan B should Matheson win, Jorge Mas said, “No.” He also said the stadium would remain 100% privately financed, as the prior ownership configuration had promised. The expected cost is $225M.
Matheson said by phone Tuesday that if the deal goes through, “The county is not doing right by the taxpayers.”
He said that, in determining the land value, the county had used 18-month-old appraisals and thus underpriced it. Nearby parcels had doubled in value during that time frame, he said.
“It’s our land,” Matheson said, meaning the public. “The county let it go for half-price, based on a stale appraisal.”
In court documents, he initially said he would buy the land himself, but now says anything could happen. He believes the greatest need for the area is housing that local workers can afford to purchase, not rent, although he is not in a position to buy it and donate it, he said.
If the soccer team is able to secure the Overtown land, next steps would be for the city of Miami to approve zoning changes and street closures. However, the stadium plan as proposed does not have any parking. Beckham’s partners have said that a new Brightline train station, just four blocks away, would bring in spectators, as would the Metrorail. There would be shuttles to nearby parking garages, and water taxis. Claure, who this month joined the board of directors of Uber, could facilitate partnerships. The investors also hope fans would carry on a soccer tradition of marching to games.
Those plans are not enough to move the projected 25,000 attendees at game time, said Amanda Hand, a land use attorney who is a director with a nonprofit called the Overtown Spring Garden Community Collective, which has organized to halt the soccer stadium. State records show Matheson is also listed as a director of the group, though he suggested that is a paperwork error.
“People in Miami are not going to teleport to that stadium,” Hand said.
Hand said that the stadium site is bordered on three sides by Overtown and on one side by Spring Garden, which has historic designation. Her house is 300 feet from the stadium site.
“I’m hopeful the 3rd [District Court of Appeals] finds in Matheson’s favor, because there are far-reaching implications,” Hand said. “If the county is able to convey property to any preferential party based on some kind of economic development … it would facilitate unlimited backroom deals.”
That decision would apply to the entire state, and “it will open the floodgates of property dealing amongst lots of players in county governments — to the detriment of the taxpayer,” Hand said. Should the county land sale go through, “We will have our day at the city of Miami’s public hearings."
There should be at least five such hearings as the project moves through necessary approval steps.
Hand said her group is not anti-soccer or anti-development. In fact, she believes that with a major mixed-use development and convention center slated for the nearby Miami Worldcenter and more projects emerging along the Miami River, the Overtown parcel will be in demand.
Hand said that Beckham's group, which paid the county $450K toward the land in the fall, has a major $5M payment in June. It also has the option to pay $950K for a six-month extension – but that would be non-refundable. It's unclear whether the Matheson appeal would be settled by then.
“The Marlins stadium is five years old. Not one new business has opened next to it,” Hand said. “A stadium is pretty much the worst land use that there is.”
Critics are concerned that the soccer stadium would be used for approximately 40 games per year, drawing loud crowds that annoy residents, then be desolate on non-game days. They also worry that language in the land sale leaves open the possibility of concerts on the site, something that was alluded to when another Beckham business partner, Tim Leiweke of Oak View Group, gave a community presentation last year.
Matheson said the best site would be next to the Marlins in Little Havana, where the teams could share parking garages, and that perhaps with the involvement of the Mas brothers — whose influence in the Cuban exile community is strong, given that their late father was perhaps the strongest anti-Castro leader in America — landowners who had previously refused to sell their property may do so now. Some news reports suggested that the Mas brothers have been exploring alternate sites.
“We feel good about our legal position," Claure said. "If that’s an impediment, we’ll find a solution. That I guarantee.”
The partners said they will find a temporary site if a stadium is not ready by 2020. Garber acknowledged the pressure of getting a deal done, especially in a city that’s already had a failed MLS team.
“We did not have another kick at the can,” he said. He said there were years that “we weren’t sure the MLS would continue to exist.”
But Beckham’s continued commitment, and recent MLS success with teams in Atlanta, Kansas City and Orlando, have been positive signs, he said, as is Miami’s soccer-crazy Latin population. In July, Barcelona played Real Madrid in Miami, and some tickets went for $4,500.
Beckham said that his Miami team would also have a youth academy for developing talent, and that it would need to be big enough for at least 10 soccer pitches — thus requiring a substantial piece of property. Mas said they have already scouted possible sites for that and could make an announcement in three months. Cost for that facility has been estimated at $100M.
Even with all the work to do, Beckham said he does not intend to relocate to Miami because his children go to school in central London and his wife, Victoria Beckham, has her business based there. But he said he will visit often.
Asked if he was worried about climate change, he said yes. But he did not suggest that it had factored into his plans. Projections show that even when seas rise by 7 feet and most of South Beach is underwater, Overtown will still be dry.