Commissioners kick aside Beckham's soccer stadium plan vote to July 18

Beckham group: Lease for Miami Freedom Park & Soccer Village is not Marlins deal

By Christian De La Rosa - Reporter, Glenna Milberg - Reporter, Janine Stanwood - Anchor/Reporter, Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer

MIAMI - David Beckham has faced obstacles at Museum Park, Dodge Island, Little Havana and Overtown, and now he is facing more at the city-owned Melreese Country Club.

Miami commissioners decided to defer the vote on the first step toward a land lease for his soccer stadium. It would require a ballot question to voters in November to allow commissioners to go forward with a no-bid negotiation.

Commissioners Ken Russell, Willy Gort and Manolo Reyes opposed to allow to move the item forward. While Reyes and Gort continue to oppose the use of public land, Russell remains the swing vote with concerns about wages and clean up costs. 

"My gut tells me that we can do better," Russell said after the Beckham group attempted to address both of his concerns. 

The item will come before commissioners again July 18 before the August deadline to put it on the ballot. This gives both sides six more days to lobby commissioners. Beckham isn't giving up. 

"It's easy for you guys to say, 'You're not from this city. You don't know what this city means to us,'" Beckham told the crowd. "Actually, I do. I'm not homegrown, but this is becoming my home, and this will become my home."

Before sitting at Miami City Hall listening to commissioners speak for hours, Beckham visited Nicklaus Children's Hospital, hosted a World Cup watch party at the Wharf, met with the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce at the Setai and was at a rally at Regatta Park in Miami's Coconut Grove neighborhood in front of dozens of fans. 

The hope of soccer fans for the Miami Freedom Park & Soccer Village collided with lovers of golf and baseball and with the grudge and mistrust left from the controversial Marlins Park deal. 

When Beckham stepped inside Miami City Hall, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, a former Major League Baseball pitcher who played for the Yankees and the White Sox, was waiting. The Cuban-born baseball star said he is against having the stadium at Melreese Country Club, because it would uproot the First Tee program.

Beckham fan Scott Newson and other supporters of the stadium said the program can just move to another golf course. The Beckham group is willing to provide a space for the program. 

Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez, who is the son of the first Cuban mayor of the city, said he trusts Beckham and Jorge Mas' commitment to Miami. He also said the Miami Springs golf course, which Miami sold to Miami Springs in 1997, could welcome the First Tee program and waive the 50/50 revenue split. 

Commissioner Joe Carollo said the majority of the people who were at City Hall were not residents of Miami. He said he was most concerned about the residents from Overtown, Little Haiti, Flagami, Wynwood and other Miami neighborhoods. He also said he was worried that the use of public land for a golf course was too costly.

Carollo also said Miami's golf course in Key Biscayne would be happy to welcome the First Tee program. 

"This property can provide a tremendous amount of relief," Carollo said. 

Miami-based Arquitectonica presented renderings of the modern soccer stadium and a traffic analysis for a "unique" level of connectivity that makes the Melreese Country Club site ideal. 

"There are many ways of getting in and out into this site," Arquitectonica principal Bernardo Fort-Brescia said. 

Russell said he trusts Suarez's vision and he sees a lot of potential benefits for the city. He also said he couldn't understand why there was so much fear and mistrust at City Hall. He attributed it to a lack of public input.

Aside from the opponents of the 25,000-seat stadium, Beckham was also dealing with the possibility that construction workers could find toxic ash when they dig around the Melreese golf course. Miami Major League Soccer expansion ownership partner Jorge Mas said the city is not going to be on the hook for any of the remediation, which he said will likely require capping. There is a need for further assessment, he said. 

Courtesy of Arquitectonica

 "I want to aspire to great things," Mas said. "I want to see people who come in and out of the city of Miami see this as the first thing they see in our city, an iconic tribute to all the generations that have proceeded us. That's what I want for my city. I want greatness for my city."

Beckham's group claims the $1 billion project can generate some $44 million in revenue for the city. The project, aiming to be completed in 2021, also includes 600,000 square feet of space for restaurants and bars, 400,000 square feet of office space, a hotel with 700 rooms and 110 acres of green space. 

Reyes and Gort said the Beckham group should have done more community outreach in the neighborhoods surrounding the Melreese property, and they should have provided more details to the commission about the project and financials. 

"The people sitting here were not aware of anything taking place here tonight, so to me, that's troublesome," Gort said. 

Beckham's group claims to be committed to covering all costs. Carollo said the negotiation of the lease could take a whole year if the voters approve it. Mas said there is urgency, because the team is kicking off in 2020 and MLS has timing requirements to move forward. 

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