The Real Deal Miami

Beckham’s bid for a Miami MLS stadium will go to voters

Miami commission approved allowing voters to decide on the proposal for Miami Freedom Park to completely revamp Melreese into a mixed-use complex designed by Arquitectonica
By Francisco Alvarado | July 18, 2018 06:25PM

MLS stadium, Francis Suarez and David Beckham

Miami voters will get to decide whether David Beckham’s latest pitch for a Major League Soccer stadium passes muster — if a legal challenge doesn’t derail it first.

On Wednesday afternoon, following another marathon meeting, city commissioners voted 3-2 to place on the Nov. 4 ballot a no-bid proposal by Beckham and his partners to redevelop Miami’s Melreese golf course and park complex into a $1 billion mixed-use project with a 25,000-seat stadium as the centerpiece.

The vote capped off a contentious two weeks for Beckham and his group of soccer franchise investors, which includes Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure and brothers Jose and Jorge Mas, who took the lead in pushing their latest stadium plan through. If the referendum passes, Miami Beckham United would then need to hammer out a final agreement with the city that would require three-fourths of the city commission to approve.

Last week, the city commission delayed its decision because commissioner Ken Russell, considered the swing vote, wanted to negotiate more concessions from the ownership group, which opponents claim presented a thinly vetted, rushed proposal to take over a large chunk of a 131-acre city property currently occupied by a popular golf course that serves underprivileged children.

Unlike last week’s meeting, this one lacked the star power of Beckham, who was not in attendance. The commission chamber was also less crowded as city officials decided not to allow the public to speak.

But tensions still ran high.

Already, Miami-based attorney Douglas Muir sued the city ahead of the commission’s vote to stop the referendum. In his lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, Muir alleges commissioners and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez — who is the Melreese stadium proposal’s most prominent elected cheerleader — violated the city’s charter by negotiating a no-bid deal for city owned land.

And Michael Fay, managing director and principal of Avison Young’s Miami office, is proposing to set up a competitive bidding process for the Melreese site.

Commissioner Manolo Reyes, who along with commissioner Willy Gort voted no, cited Muir’s complaint in his impassioned pleas to convince his colleagues to fully vet Miami Beckham United’s proposal to build Miami Freedom Park, which will complement the stadium with retail shops, restaurants, offices and hotel rooms. In addition, Beckham, Mas and their partners are promising to build 23 soccer fields, a football field and a passive park, plus pay the city $20 million, roughly $3.6 million in annual rent and a share of revenues.

“We are circumventing our own statutes and our own laws,” Reyes said. “We have a lawsuit against us and many more will follow…We must have transparency. We are going against our own charter. That is why people don’t trust us.”

Yet by the time the city commission took an afternoon recess, Russell had gone from possibly voting no to being an affirmative yes. That’s because Mas agreed to the commissioner’s insistence that Miami Freedom Park institute a living wage for anyone who ends up working at the mixed-use site.

Mas said Miami Beckham United would adopt a minimum living wage of $11 an hour that would scale up to $15 an hour by the 4th year Miami Freedom Park is in operation. “You have our commitment that all onsite employees will be covered the living wage I have laid out now,” Mas said.

Russell said the reason he pushed for the living wage was because he knew he was likely the swing vote. “I am in a unique position to use the amount of leverage to get what the city needs at this moment,” he said. “I am willing to believe in the mayor’s vision and take a chance.”