A whirlwind week for the Mas brothers and David Beckham – which included accusations of backroom deals with city officials and intentionally withholding details – ended with a game delay.
The Mas-Beckham group is seeking a referendum on the November ballot asking Miami residents to approve or deny a no-bid lease agreement that would allow the group to redevelop the city-owned Melreese Golf Course and surrounding park complex into a massive $1 billion mixed-use project anchored by a 25,000-seat stadium that will be home to the partners’ MLS franchise. For that to happen, Beckham and his partners need approval from the Miami City Commission.
Instead, city commissioners voted 5-0 to defer their decision until a special meeting on Wednesday, July 18 in which they hope to hammer out the proposed ballot language. A chief complaint among commissioners was the lack of time they had to digest the proposal.
“I was driven [to run for city commissioner] by a dream to bring transparency to the city of Miami,” Commissioner Manolo Reyes said. “This is not that. I have heard more from the Miami Herald than from our city manager. I agree that we should let the people decide, but we have a process. There is no transparency. We have been getting things piecemeal.”
Up until last month, Beckham, the Mas brothers and other investors, including Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, appeared committed to building their MLS stadium on an Overtown site that includes land owned by Miami-Dade County. However, that deal has been held up in litigation after longtime Miami activist Bruce Matheson sued Miami-Dade, alleging the county violated state law when it agreed to a no-bid deal with Beckham and his partners.
But Jorge Mas, who along with his brother joined the partnership in December, said he was never sold on the Overtown site, arguing it would not benefit the residents of that neighborhood. As recently as late June, the Miami MLS partnership was working with city officials to present the Melreese proposal to the city commission to get it on the November ballot.
In the days leading up to the July 12 city commission meeting, parks activists, city watchdogs and Melreese users mounted vociferous opposition to letting Beckham and his partners commandeer the 150-acre golf course complex, which also includes a country club, tennis courts, baseball fields and a children’s water park. It is located near Miami International Airport and the Miami Intermodal Center.
On Wednesday, soccer supporters appeared outnumbered by opponents, including dozens of children wearing orange T-shirts who participate in the First Tee youth golf program at Melreese. With city hall at over capacity by 2:30 p.m., the fire marshal denied entry to more than 100 people. Police officers holding assault rifles stood guard by the entrance. To accommodate those left outside, City Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon instructed speakers to leave the chambers once they finished their comments.
Even Beckham picked up on the animosity against his latest attempt to find a stadium site.
“It’s been a long time since I walked into a room and people didn’t smile at me,” Beckham said when he addressed the commission. “It is not a nice feeling. I hope today you realize what we are trying to do for your city. I hope you realize we are good people and we are trying to do the right thing.”
Beckham and his partners are proposing to completely revamp Melreese into a soccer mecca designed by Arquitectonica. In addition to the stadium, the proposed Miami Freedom Park will feature 600,000 square feet of space for retail and restaurants, 400,000 square feet of office space, thousands of parking spaces, more than 700 hotel rooms, and 23 soccer fields on roughly 23 acres of green space.
In exchange, Jorge Mas said the project will invest $20 million in park improvements and pay the city fair market rent for the land, which the partnership group is estimating at $3.6 million annually. Mas also displayed a chart showing Miami Freedom Park would generate $5.8 million in tax revenue to the city, $11 million in tax revenues to Miami-Dade County, and $20 million in sales tax revenue to the state of Florida. He reiterated his partnership will not seek any taxpayer funds or financial assistance to build the stadium and all its accoutrements.
“This project will require zero public dollars,” Mas said. “We don’t want a subsidy. We don’t want a giveaway. We don’t want absolutely anything. … I want the voters to decide. I want every single voice in the city of Miami to make this decision.”
Neighborhood activist and opponent Grace Solaressaid the city would be subsidizing billionaires by providing them with a sweetheart deal for city-owned land. “$20 million is petty cash for this group,” Solares said. “$20 million will look quite appealing and enticing when it is actually a mockery of the electorate. We find it highly offensive.”
Another dissenter, Miami River Commission Chairman Horacio Stuart Aguirre, accused the Mas brothers and Beckham of disguising a real estate transaction as a stadium deal. “Today you are being asked to consider the ransacking of this great park and the surrounding neighborhood,” Aguirre said. “This is not about soccer at all. This is about a major real estate development.”