Miami board OK’s Beckham stadium design, complex master plan

Decision comes weeks after commission approved controversial lease for public land

From left: Jorge Mas and David Beckham in front of a rendering of Miami Freedom Park (Getty Images, Arquitectonica)
From left: Jorge Mas and David Beckham in front of a rendering of Miami Freedom Park (Getty Images, Arquitectonica)

David Beckham’s proposed Major League Soccer stadium and surrounding mixed-use development just cleared another hurdle.

The Miami Urban Development Review Board on Wednesday approved designs for the 25,000-seat stadium and nearly 5,000-car parking garage, as well as the master plan for the broader project, which includes a hotel, offices and a public park. The vote is preliminary, as another city board and then the city commission will still need to sign off.

The decision is another milestone for the Miami Freedom Park project, a permanent home for the Inter Miami CF soccer club that’s been nine years in the making and has drawn opposition along the way. In April, commissioners approved the developers’ controversial no-bid deal for a 99-year lease on the city-owned Melreese Country Club at 1802 Northwest 37th Avenue, the proposed site of the project.

Miami businessmen Jorge and Jose Mas, brothers who lead the Coral Gables-based engineering and construction firm MasTec, are leading the development partnership that includes Beckham and Los Angeles-based Ares Management. SoftBank’s Marcelo Claure and Masayoshi Son sold their stake in the project and the soccer club to Beckham and the Mas brothers last September.

The urban development board’s vote greenlighted the blueprint for the 130-acre project being developed as a Special Area Plan, a designation that allows for some wiggle room on building regulations in exchange for public benefits. The Arquitectonica-designed complex will rise on the 72 acres leased by the partnership; the remaining 58 acres will be a public park under the city’s purview.

The developers have pledged $20 million for improvements to city parks and open space, with a large portion going to the development of the 58-acre park on the Melreese land. Another $5 million will go to the city’s Baywalk and Riverwalk projects.

Manica is the lead architect of the stadium, which will be on the north end of the site. At the northwest corner of the land will be a 750-key hotel and 400,000 square feet of office space targeting the growing influx of tech companies to South Florida, according to an Arquitectonica presentation at the board meeting. The plan is for roughly 600,000 square feet of commercial space, largely within a “soccer village” south of the stadium with retail and restaurants.

The development is limited in height to 160 feet, though not all buildings will reach that maximum, and the buildout is contained on the north and west portion of the site to avoid the flight path for Miami International Airport west of the site, Iris Escarra, an attorney for the developers, told the board.

The two-way Miami Freedom Park Drive will be the main north-south road, separating the buildings from the public park at the center of the site. Access points into the complex will be at Northwest 19th Terrace on the east, Le Jeune Road on the west and off 14th Street to the south. Plans also call for a pedestrian overpass to the Miami Intermodal Center, a public transit hub, to the north.

The 4,900-car garage, stretching along the western part of the site along Le Jeune Road, will include 215,000 square feet of public use sports fields on its roof, including for soccer and football, as well as basketball and tennis courts. The project will have 5,100 parking spaces altogether.

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The development review board recommended approval of the garage on the condition that the nearly 1,500-foot-long building be split by a pedestrian paseo, making for two parking structures. The sports fields will remain connected at the rooftop.

Board Chair Ignacio Permuy noted the proposed garage was larger than some warehouses in the neighborhood.

“There needs to be some sort of a break,” he said. Even “750 feet is huge.”

Arquitectonica’s Alejandro Gonzalez vowed at the meeting to address these concerns. Splitting the garage had been explored, he said, but could impact the number of parking spaces.

The design team settled on one parking structure partly because the building would block noise from Le Jeune and the airport to the west, added Escarra, the developers’ attorney.

Wednesday’s vote was one step in the process for master plan and design approvals. Next, the Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board will vote on the garage and stadium design, as well as the entire master plan at a yet-unscheduled meeting. The commission also has to vote at two public hearings. Designs for the offices and hotel have yet to be finalized.

The developers are also on the hook for the remediation of the former garbage incinerator site at their own cost. They have four years after Special Area Plan approval to finish that work and build the stadium, then another six to complete the commercial real estate.

Part of the contention leading up to the commission’s vote on the lease was over the developers’ lease, which opponents have argued is below market-rate at a time when land values have skyrocketed. The team agreed to bump up the annual base rent to $4.3 million, from about $3.6 million, and also increase the construction-period rent. In addition, the city will order two new appraisals that won’t take into account the site contamination, all as a way to boost payments, possibly past $4.3 million, according to the Miami Herald.

Miami Freedom Park passed its first major hurdle in November 2018 when a majority of voters approved a referendum allowing the city to negotiate the lease.

Other sites the developers explored before settling on Melreese included property in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood.

Inter Miami CF began playing MLS games two years ago at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, which replaced the old Lockhart Stadium. The team will continue practicing there but will move its competitive games to Miami Freedom Park, according to Escarra.