Miami voters back MLS stadium plan

Miami voters have backed the David Beckham-led group’s vision for a stadium and commercial complex on land currently occupied by Melreese Country Club golf course in what is claimed to be the biggest win yet in efforts to deliver a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise to the city.

Around 60% of voters yesterday (Tuesday) supported the Miami Freedom Park plan, clearing Club Internacional de Futbol Miami stakeholders to proceed onto negotiations with city commissioners over a lease deal for the land located next to Miami International Airport.

In July, Miami commissioners voted 3-2 in favour of holding yesterday’s referendum that asked voters if the city should forego usual processes by negotiating a no-bid lease with Beckham’s ownership group to build the $1bn (£760m/€871m) complex on the city’s only municipal golf course.

Voters have decided that the city can 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. Miami Freedom Park will 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, has 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, with the Beckham group set to hand the city $20m in annual instalments over 30 years to make improvements to that park or any other park space in the city.

In January, Beckham claimed victory in his long-running efforts to bring an MLS expansion franchise to Miami, with the league targeting a 2020 launch for the new team. The franchise will likely begin play at another stadium, with significant hurdles still remaining for the Freedom Park plan, most notably getting final sign off from the city.

A final lease deal will require the votes of four of the five city commissioners, with both Willy Gort and Manolo Reyes voting against placing the referendum on the ballot back in July. “It’s a bad deal,” Gort, whose district includes Melreese, said, according to the Miami Herald newspaper. “It’s a real estate deal, and they’re using the stadium as a hook.”

Beckham admits some residents remain unconvinced of his group’s plans, adding there is still work to be done to seal a deal. He said: “Everybody has their right to their opinion. At the end of the day, that’s why there’s a vote. That’s why there’s a yes and a no. But tonight, we were successful. We had amazing support and an amazing team that put this together. The hurdles are not over yet. We still have things to clear up over these next few years, but I think we’re in a good place.”

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a strong proponent of the plan who helped broker the proposal earlier this year, added: “This is a deal where the citizens are going to get fair market value rent. This is going to be privately funded. We’re going to get a 60-acre park, 23 acres of soccer field and an MLS team headed by Jorge Mas and David Beckham, who just care so much for the city. I mean, it could not be a better deal for the residents of the city of Miami.”

Image: Inter Miami