Miami commissioners force deadline for Beckham group soccer stadium deal

If agreement is not reached by Sept. 16, one commissioner threatened to seek more bidders for Melreese golf course

From left: Jorge Mas and David Beckham, with a rendering of Miami Freedom Park (Credit: Getty Images)
From left: Jorge Mas and David Beckham, with a rendering of Miami Freedom Park (Credit: Getty Images)

On the field, David Beckham always operated within the confines of a 90-minute game, and now as a developer of a new soccer stadium, he’s still on the clock.

The same day Beckham and his partners announced a potential deal for their professional soccer franchise to play its first two seasons in Fort Lauderdale, Miami city commissioners ramped up the pressure on negotiations for their coveted site at the city-owned Melreese golf course.

The city commission voted 4-1 on Thursday to set a Sept. 16 deadline for City Manager Emilio Gonzalez to present a negotiated 99-year lease allowing Beckham’s group, led by partner and Miami businessman Jorge Mas, to build Miami Freedom Park. The massive commercial complex is planned to have a hotel, retail center and office park anchored by a 25,000 seat stadium for the group’s Major League Soccer team Inter Miami CF. Beckham and Mas want to build the project on 72 acres of city-owned land that is currently used as the golf course.

City commissioners are also requiring Gonzalez to seek their approval for any real estate consultants he wants to hire to assist with the negotiations.

During the meeting, Commissioner Joe Carollo said seven months is enough time for city staff and the Beckham group to draw up an agreement, while noting the partnership heavily lobbied the commission last year to place the stadium proposal on the November 2018 general election ballot in order to meet a deadline set by Major League Soccer. Voters approved the stadium referendum.

“There is no reason in the world this negotiation is going to take longer than the time we are talking about,” Carollo said. “I remember we pushed this through quickly because they had a gun at their head at the time from MLS. If we draw the line with a date, that is smart negotiating from the start.”

Carollo also threatened to throw a monkey wrench into the stadium proposal if no deal is in place by the commission’s deadline. “I will put forth a motion that we put it out to bid for the best and highest idea,” he said. “You will have no less than 20 development firms lining up.”

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Commissioner Manolo Reyes, who co-sponsored the resolution, said he wanted to set a deadline to vote on a negotiated lease before the city’s municipal election on Nov. 5. Reyes claimed unnamed individuals planned to run a candidate against him because of his vociferous opposition to Miami Freedom Park. He also noted Willy Gort, the project’s other critic on the commission, is termed out.

“You know I have an election in November and I am totally opposed to this project [because] of the way it was done without any transparency and [because] parks shouldn’t be developed,” Reyes said. “Because of what has happened, there is an effort to get me out of here…. I want to make sure I am here when it’s time to vote.”

The commission’s vote on a deadline was a blow to Mayor Francis Suarez, who spoke against setting a deadline during the discussion. “I do have an issue with the deadline because I think it is an artificial deadline,” Suarez said. “To me this is not political.”

In a statement after the vote, Mas said the Beckham partnership is on board with the deadline. “All along we have wanted to finalize an agreement as soon as possible,” Mas said. “We will be ready to present the lease to the city as soon as its consultants are selected.”

Mas and Beckham did not attend the city commission meeting as they were in Fort Lauderdale touting their proposal to have Inter Miami CF play its first two seasons at a newly constructed $60 million Lockhart Stadium soccer complex, which was once the home of MLS’s first South Florida team, the Miami Fusion. That franchise closed down in 2001.

Inter Miami CF had initially submitted a non-solicited proposal to privately fund the design, development, construction, maintenance, and operation of a state-of-the-art soccer-training complex that includes an 18,000-seat stadium, as well as several community facilities, including a public park. The Fort Lauderdale city council will vote on Inter Miami’s proposal on Tuesday.