Golfers could compete with soccer fans for use of public park in Miami

Will taxpayers go into business with Beckham? Officials are discussing it

By Glenna Milberg - Reporter, Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer

MIAMI - The idea that the city-owned park used for the International Links Melreese Country Club could be turned into a Major League Soccer stadium and complex sparked controversy even though the club doesn't generate revenue for the city. 

Taxpayers have already invested in two for-profit sports ventures in Miami -- Marlins Park, the home of the Major League Baseball franchise; and the AmericanAirlines Arena, the home court of the National Basketball Association franchise. Some of the regulars at the public 18-hole golf course at 1802 NW 37th Ave. were not amenable to the idea.

"There are so many places to build, and to just come in and destroy something that has been built for so many years through hard labor, love," Antonio Prado said about the $3.9 million renovation to the 1961 property. 

When the club reopened in 1997, Tiger Woods made his first professional appearance in South Florida in front of more than 3,500 fans there. The golf learning center's media center, big enough for about 100 people, opened in 2012. It's also among the best deals in Miami-Dade. But now Luis Luaces, a regular at the club's 12-acre driving range, fears it could all be gone. 

"If they want to bring in the money, and the money supersedes the necessity and the need and the beauty of this place, who are we to say no? I mean, money rules, you know that," Luaces said. 

After David Beckham's partners Jorge and Jose Mas met with Miami City Manager Emilio Gonzalez this week to talk about the 180-acre property near Miami International Airport, it was clear the new group didn't find the 9-acre property purchased in Overtown in 2016 to be suitable.

Mayor Francis Suarez appointed Gonzalez in January, and the Mas brothers joined the Beckham group's effort late last year. After facing opposition from Spring Garden and Overtown residents, now Suarez might have to deal with residents who could not be interested in investing taxpayers' money on soccer.

The property is divided into two sections. The largest is at 1400 NW 37 Ave., and includes the green paradise visible from LeJeune Road. The smaller lot at 1550 NW 37 Ave., and built in 1972 has undergone several renovations and includes a small water park. 

"This is a taxpayer asset," Suarez said. "And so the question is: How freely can they use it? How often can they use it?" 

Suarez celebrated the Beckham group's new team at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami Jan. 29, when the public was aware of Beckham's plan for an open-air stadium with 25,000 seats and no parking spaces. The land might now be part of a deal in a new public-private partnership. 

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