Major League Soccer (MLS) commissioner Don Garber has locked horns with Miami authorities over the process surrounding delivering a new stadium for expansion franchise Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami (Inter Miami), ahead of a potentially crucial meeting on Thursday.
Garber has spoken out amid ongoing unease over securing a stadium for a franchise that was initially formed in 2014, before being ratified in January 2018. In June, Inter Miami took another step in its efforts to develop a permanent new stadium by submitting a draft lease agreement for the $1bn (£775.8m/€899.3m) Miami Freedom Park project.
The draft agreement entered to the City of Miami includes the 25,000-seat stadium, along with what will be one of the city’s largest public parks and a tech hub, among other components. The Miami city commission is scheduled to meet on Thursday, with two resolutions on the agenda with regards Freedom Park.
The first is a yes/no vote on the current version of the lease. The second would order the city manager to end talks on a lease with Miami Freedom Park LLC, the entity attempting to develop the land on Inter Miami’s behalf, opening up the site to competitive bidding.
The ESPN website said approval of the second resolution would at best create considerable delays for the project, and at worst could end the deal. Inter Miami’s ownership group, led by Jorge Mas and David Beckham, has long attempted to secure a stadium deal at various sites. The current plan envisions Inter Miami playing at a redeveloped Lockhart Stadium for the 2020 and 2021 MLS seasons, until the Freedom Park stadium opens.
“There have been continuous challenges in Miami, and it’s frustrating,” Garber told ESPN. “MLS has shown such a commitment to the City of Miami, and been so patient for so many years. We’ve done everything we said we would do. We found an unbelievable local owner in Jorge Mas and his partner Marcelo Claure. They’ve invested over $100m in a temporary facility, all based on the fact that there was public referendum that supported our path to signing a lease at the Melreese site.
“Now all of a sudden, there’s a bunch of folks that are backtracking on some of the commitments that were made. I find it frustrating and at times infuriating. It seems as if we’re getting caught up in a political mess that is not of our making. I’m very disappointed.”
In June, Inter Miami said the submission of the lease was a significant milestone that advanced the mandate of City of Miami voters, who approved a November 2018 referendum item by a 60% margin allowing the City to lease its land for the project. However, the project’s status as a no-bid deal means it still needs the backing of four of the five city commissioners, two of which – Manolo Reyes and Willy Gort – have been long-term opponents.
“I understand Mr. Garber’s frustration but his job is to promote MLS, and for Mr. Mas and his partners this is a business decision,” Reyes told ESPN. “My job is to protect the interest of the residents and our greenspaces/parks of the City of Miami.
“I am not sure who Mr. Garber is referring too with his statement of ‘all of a sudden, there’s a bunch of folks that are backtracking’ because I have been against this real estate development/land grab by group of businessmen. I have nothing against soccer. If Mr. Mas and his business partners want to buy land within the city of Miami and develop it I am sure the City would assist in any way possible.”
In response to the opposition, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said: “Some commissioners continue to try and substitute their judgment for the will of the voters. It’s anti-democratic, frustrating, and a blatant betrayal of the public trust. We have to stop playing games and exercise the will of the voters to bring this global sport, one of the few things missing in Miami, to our beautiful global city.”
Image: Inter Miami CF