Inter Miami chooses Lockhart Stadium for MLS debut

Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion franchise Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami (Inter Miami) has proposed Lockhart Stadium as home for its opening two seasons after discounting other options in the US city.

In January, Inter Miami presented a proposal to the City of Fort Lauderdale for the design, construction and maintenance of a training facility and multi-purpose 18,000-seat stadium on the site of Lockhart Stadium, but at that stage had not committed to the facility as its home venue.

However, the club’s ownership group leaders, David Beckham and Jorge Mas, yesterday (Thursday) put forward a proposal for Inter to play at Lockhart Stadium for the 2020 and 2021 MLS seasons, until its planned Freedom Park stadium opens in Miami.

The Miami Herald newspaper said Marlins Park, Hard Rock Stadium and Florida International University had been considered as other potential homes, but Inter has committed to the venue which had housed the League’s first South Florida team, Miami Fusion, until it folded in 2001.

January’s initial proposal had envisioned Lockhart Stadium as the site for its youth academy, but it has been expanded and is set to be voted on by Fort Lauderdale’s city council on Tuesday. “We looked at FIU, Marlins Park, and Hard Rock, but at the end of the day, none of them were the right fit for the fan and sponsor experience we are looking for, and scheduling was an issue,” Mas said, according to the Herald.

“This is the best solution. By creating our own stadium, we have a ton of flexibility, don’t have to adapt to anyone else’s building and we can have whatever sponsors we choose. This will be a good-looking stadium that will be perfect for the first two years and to host other games, too. It doesn’t have the guts of a regular stadium, but we will create a great soccer-fan experience in a plaza with booths and tents and pop-ups.”

If approved, Inter Miami will plough $60m (£45.2m/€53m) into the Lockhart site, which first opened in 1959. The complex is envisioned for usage by visiting national teams and clubs, as well as a potential training site for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which the United States will co-host with Canada and Mexico.

In November, Miami voters backed Inter’s vision for a stadium and commercial complex on land currently occupied by Melreese Country Club golf course in what was claimed to be the biggest win yet in efforts to deliver an MLS franchise to the city.

The $1bn complex on the city’s only municipal golf course 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.

Mas insisted yesterday that Miami Freedom Park will be “an unbelievable wow stadium” and the Lockhart facility will serve as a secondary soccer-focused venue. He added that subject to approval on Tuesday, construction at Lockhart Stadium could begin as early as late April or early May.

“Our ownership group has spent months carefully discussing venue options to launch Inter Miami CF’s inaugural season in MLS, while we build Miami Freedom Park,” Inter Miami sporting director Paul McDonough added.

“Ultimately we decided to expand our vision for the Fort Lauderdale project to launch our first two seasons in the League the right way. Our goal is to provide fans with the most captivating soccer atmosphere and gameday experience, and we did not believe this would be possible at the venues we evaluated.”

Image: Inter Miami