MIAMI – Miami commissioners voted 4-1 Thursday in support of David Beckham’s dream of building a proper home for Miami’s Major League Soccer team. Beckham wasn’t at the meeting. His partner billionaire Jorge Mas said the project will cost them $203 million over time.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has long championed the Miami Freedom Park project. Commissioners Ken Russell, Alex Diaz de la Portilla, Joe Carollo, and Christine King voted in support of the no-bid 99-year lease of 73 acres of public land.
Commissioner Manolo Reyes was the dissenting vote. He represents District 4, which is south of the project, and had concerns about the traffic impact the stadium and complex will have on residents.
“My business is to protect the people as much as I can,” Reyes said.
Mas plans to develop about 130 acres — including a 25,000-seat soccer stadium for InterMiami and a new 58-acre public park — at the International Links Melreese Country Club, an 18-hole public golf course with a driving range and a clubhouse. They will also have to pay property taxes and $4.3 million in rent annually.
“Just to start vertical construction on the stadium, we are going to have to spend $120 million,” Mas said during a presentation of his development costs.
Mas told commissioners their long-term plan also includes a professional women’s soccer team playing out of the InterMiami facility in Fort Lauderdale and soccer programs for both girls and boys. Carollo said the Miami stadium presents “a once in a lifetime opportunity” for the University of Miami Hurricanes. Mas celebrated the proximity that UM students would have to the games.
“Let’s be a big city,” said Diaz de la Portilla, who represents District 1, where the public land for the project is.
The vote didn’t come without drama, as commissioners debated and proposed amendments to the deal.
Even before the meeting got started, the mics were hot and Diaz de la Portilla was heard using a vulgar and homophobic expletive.
It appeared to be directed at Reyes, the only no vote Thursday night.
“It’s unfortunate that a fellow commissioner speaks that way, but maybe he was projecting,” Reyes said after the meeting. “You know what projecting is? You call people what you are.”
Local 10 News looked for Diaz de la Portilla to get his response to the vulgarity he was heard using, but he was nowhere to be found after the vote.
To start the project in Miami, Mas and Beckham will have to invest in cleaning up the arsenic and lead resulting from the incinerator ash that was used as a filler before the golf course was built. Mas said he is environmentally remediating the entire park. Russell, who represents District 2, described the plan as “incredibly sophisticated.”
At first, the commissioners couldn’t agree on how to divide the $20 million included in the deal for projects in the districts. Diaz de la Portilla said he should be the one to manage the funds because the project is in his district. Carollo, who represents District 3, said this was a nonissue for him. King, who represents District 5, and Russell were not so convinced.
“I do want to see some of this money come into District 5,” King said adding, “What I am trying to do for my district is to create wealth.”
King, who chaired the meeting, said there needs to be a “compliance piece.” She also wanted requirements to increase minority participation in the commercial space and a program to help convicted felons who need help rejoining society after serving time in prison. She applauded the inclusion of the unions in the hospitality piece.
“My recommendation would be that half of the $20 million stays in District 1,” Russell said before the commissioners agreed.
Before the vote, Pat Santangelo, a retired Florida Highway Patrol trooper and the co-founder of Little Haiti FC soccer club for kids, told commissioners the organization behind the stadium has already supported the children in his club.
William “Billy Corben” Cohen launched the “Don’t Bend Over For Beckham” campaign. The documentary film director behind “Cocaine Cowboys” and “The U” recruited David Samson, the former president of the Miami Marlins.
“Scheme is worse than the Marlins Park boondoggle,” Cohen wrote in an April 19th tweet that had been shared more than 1,080 times by Thursday afternoon.
Carollo denounced the opposition campaign during the meeting and said Samson and the filmmaker don’t live in the city.
“The voters overwhelmingly chose the soccer stadium over the country club,” Russell wrote on April 23rd in response to the opposition campaign.
On Nov. 6, 2018, about 60% of Miami voters approved a referendum authorizing the city to negotiate the 99-year lease for about 70 acres with Miami Freedom Park LLC. The developers still need commissioners to approve the zoning.
Mas presented this graphic on his development costs
6 p.m. report
5 p.m. report
Related social media
Inter Miami’s response to campaign
Read the draft agreement folks.— Daniel Suarez (@SuarezMiami) April 20, 2022
• public funding will be used for arsenic cleanup
• rent payment is way below. There were was no agreed price in ‘18, only negotiations
• it’s 130 acres of parkland, read the city charter
• many were sold on a stadium, not other structures
This closing memo from @cityofmiami outside counsel brought up a few issues with #Melreese deal. Let’s review and address- apparently there’s no guarantee a stadium will be built anytime soon. Certainly not first. pic.twitter.com/zk88UK7OJO— Blanca Mesa (@blancamesa) April 24, 2022
This is a developing story.