Miami MLS stadium project heads to referendum

The David Beckham-led group’s latest stadium proposal for its Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion franchise in Miami will head to a referendum in November after narrowly passing a vote yesterday (Wednesday).

Miami commissioners voted 3-2 in favour of holding a referendum that will ask voters if the city should forego usual processes by negotiating a no-bid lease with Beckham’s ownership group to build a $1bn (£766.7m/€861.1m) complex on the city’s only municipal golf course, Melreese Country Club.

Voters will have to choose whether the city should make an exception to its competitive bidding law to allow officials to negotiate the no-bid deal with the Beckham group to develop 131 acres of public land.

Earlier this month, the Miami Freedom Park masterplan was disclosed ahead of the City Commission meeting to determine whether to put the project to a referendum. In January, Beckham claimed victory in his long-running efforts to bring an MLS expansion franchise to Miami, but a number of question marks remained, including final details on the new stadium that will house the team.

At the time, the league said Miami’s team would play in a privately developed, 25,000-seat stadium in the city’s urban core. A nine-acre site in Overtown had been pinpointed but the Beckham group was said to have had private discussions about other potential sites.

Miami Freedom Park would include a 25,000-seat stadium; 600,000 square feet of entertainment, restaurant and retail space; 400,000 square feet of office space; a golf entertainment facility; 3,750 parking spaces; 750 hotel rooms and 110 acres of open green space.

Jorge Mas, the leader of telco and construction firm MasTec and local head of the Beckham group, yesterday pledged to clean up contaminated soil at the Melreese site, a project that has been budgeted at $35m.

A new 58-acre public park would be built on the rest of the site, and the Miami Herald newspaper said the Beckham group would hand the city $20m in annual instalments over 30 years to make improvements to that park or any other park space in the city.

Commissioner Manolo Reyes was one of the two officials to vote against the referendum and called on a separate process to decide if the city should put the Melreese site out for a competitive bid. “We are circumventing our own statutes, our own laws,” he said, according to the Herald.

Following the vote, Mas attributed the negative sentiment around the Beckham group proposal to the after effects of Miami’s experience with the development of a new ballpark for Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise the Miami Marlins. The 2009 decision to use public funds for the $515m stadium is still a subject of much debate.

“They’ve tainted this community that’s led to a lot of mistrust with anything having to do with this type of project,” Mas said. “That’s why from the very beginning, I’ve always said this has to be the anti-Marlins deal and tried to do everything in a different fashion, in a different way.”

Image: Miami Herald