In spite of pleas from the mayor for more time, on Thursday the Miami City Commission approved a resolution to vote on a contract in late October that will enable a development team to construct a gigantic $1 billion stadium complex on top of a city-owned golf course.
The commission wants to vote on the contract by either Oct. 24 or Oct. 31.
Miami Freedom Park LLC, led by MasTec chairman Jorge Mas and fronted by soccer superstar David Beckham, wants to build a 25,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium complex on top of Melreese County Club, a city-owned golf course near Miami International Airport and Grapeland Water Park.
In a statement, Miami Freedom Park said it “continues to work quickly and diligently on finalizing a lease” with the city.
If the contract isn’t ready to be voted on at the Oct. 24 meeting, the commission will then schedule a special meeting on Oct. 31 to vote on the matter. If a contract isn’t supported by four commissioners, as required by a city referendum, the city may reject the soccer deal entirely or issue a request for proposals from other developers wishing to build upon the 131-acre course.
Commissioner Manolo Reyes, a critic of the deal, insisted that a contract was supposed to have been voted on at Thursday’s meeting, according to a resolution he and his colleagues passed months earlier.
“Everybody knows you’re totally partial to this,” Reyes told Mayor Francis Suarez, later adding, “I think it’s disingenuous. It’s a simple land deal.”
But Suarez countered that the pending negotiations with Miami Freedom Park LLC is anything but simple. “It’s the definition of complicated,” the mayor said. “This real estate deal is politically complicated… it is complicated on every level.”
In July 2018, the commission voted 3-2 – with commissioners Willy Gort and Reyes dissenting – to ask Miami voters if the city could negotiate a no-bid deal with Miami Freedom Park LLC.
The development would be home to the Beckham group’s MLS soccer team, Inter Miami CF, as well as 750 hotel rooms, 400,000 square feet of offices, 600,000 square feet of retail, and 3,750 parking spaces. Besides Mas and Beckham, Miami Freedom Park’s major partners include SoftBank executives Masayoshi Son and Marcelo Claure as well as producer Simon Fuller. In November, the referendum passed with just over 60 percent of the vote.
As part of the deal, Miami Freedom Park must pay for consultants hired by the commission to study a fair market value rent, analyze environmental remediation, and study the traffic impact. They’re also to pay for a team of attorneys studying the deal on behalf of the municipality that includes former Miami city commissioner Marc Sarnoff.
Suarez said the consulting team had just been assembled that day and warned it will take months to draft a deal for commission approval. And Sarnoff told the commissioners that even though the attorneys are moving “at light speed” by commercial practice standards, the contract proposal made by Miami Freedom Park back in July still needs plenty of work, including determining what rent the city will charge.
But Gort insisted that he be able to vote on a final contract before he leaves office. Melreese is located within Gort’s district.
Reyes and Commissioner Joe Carollo said Miami Freedom Park may even want the negotiations to drag on until after the upcoming elections on Nov. 5. That way, Miami Freedom Park may have an additional commissioner in place that’s more friendly to the development of a soccer stadium being built on the city’s own golf course, they said.
Gort can’t run for re-election due to term limits and there are seven candidates running for his District 1 seat.
Suarez said he’d love to get the deal finished “as soon as possible,” but he’s doubtful that it’s possible. “It’s not reasonable that a billion-dollar deal with three consultants and independent [attorneys] … that it all be wrapped up in 30 days,” the mayor said, adding that a rushed deal was “not in the best interest of the city” and “I’m not even sure if it’s constitutional.”
But Reyes believed the mayor is manipulating city actions to ensure a deal that will enable a private developer to build on a public park. Reyes was particularly miffed about the city’s sudden closure of the entire golf course in August over elevated arsenic being detected at four isolated spots. Reyes insinuated that the closure over purported environmental concerns was being used by the administration to help sell the idea of handing it over to a developer, since Miami Freedom Park pledged to pay for Melreese’s environmental remediation as well.
“My fear is we’re dealing with very sleazy, very sneaky type of policies,” Reyes said.