Last year, David Beckham's expansion MLS franchise in Miami looked dead in the water. On May 20, 2014, the City of Miami Commissioners voted down Beckham's PortMiami stadium proposal. His Plan B for the club, which is to be called Miami Beckham United, was a stadium on Biscayne Boulevard. That plan died an unofficial death on June 11, 2014, when Miami City Mayor Tomas Regalado publicly rejected it.
MLS had waited a year for progress, and they got nada. League Commissioner Don Garber cast flirtatious eyes at Sacramento. Open records requests I made for an article published on this website showed that Beckham's ownership group was out-lobbied by local interests. Robert Andrew Powell's reporting painted an even more depressing picture: MBU's owners, all three of them, resided in other states and countries and had totally failed to engage local politicos.
For months, MLS fans in Miami waited for good news, but only got silence. Was Team Beckham up to the task? After a flurry of activity in December, the answer is still a resounding "maybe."
Beckham's journey to an MLS stadium has been marked incompetence and compromise. His initial dream of a sexy downtown stadium paid for by the public died years ago, mostly unmourned. Last summer, Plan C, a stadium located near the disastrous Marlins Park—a site that an MBU co-owner dubbed "spiritually-tainted"—gathered steam. On July 17, 2015, Beckham and his co-owners met with Mayor Regalado and started negotiations for a stadium near the Marlins Stadium. MBU co-owner Marcelo Claure ecstatically called the meeting the "moment of truth" on Twitter.
It wasn't. Just another false dawn. The so called "moment of truth" was followed by more months of silence. MBU pledged to not use public funds to build the stadium, but gave no comment on if they would seek an exemption or subsidy for property taxes and sales taxes. On October 22, 2015, after three months of silence, the Miami Herald suddenly reported that MBU had worked out a deal with the Miami-Dade School District to avoid property taxes at the Marlins Park site: the school district, a tax-free entity, would own any land acquired by MBU, and in return MBU would grant them community benefits such as use of the stadium for graduation ceremonies. This type of deal is known as "community benefit agreements" and has grown in popularity. However, VICE Sports contributor Neil de Mause has noted that they seldom offset or even equal lost tax revenue.
Still, the deal created a local political stir for two reasons. First, a key member of the Miami-Dade School District Board was Raquel Regalado, daughter of City Mayor Regalado. She happens to be running for County Mayor against incumbent Carlos Gimenez. Most importantly, the involvement of the school district effectively cut the county out of any stadium deal by neutering their power of persuasion via property taxes.
Secondly, MBU handled the school district deal in a rushed and haphazard manner. Records from a Miami City Commissioner meeting held that very night (October 22) show frustration and confusion. Commissioner Frank Carollo noted that the announcement was very sudden and that he hoped his colleagues had not found out about the deal through the story in the Herald. He claimed that he himself had only heard about the deal two days earlier on October 20. While much of the meeting is redacted in public records because negotiations are confidential, Carollo did mention MBU's "term sheet" aka their offer for the City land. He noted that he talked with the City Manager and that he sought top dollar—in the region of $20 million—for the City's parcel near Marlins stadium. During the unredacted and available sections of the records, City Mayor Regalado did not say a word.
The following day, Friday, October 23, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez gave a Spanish-language radio interview with WURN-AM (1020)'s Actualidad Radio and accused City mayor Regalado of "petty" politics. He accused him of using the Beckham stadium deal to boost his daughter Raquel Regalado's chances in the County Mayoral race. City Mayor Regalado was on the same radio show an hour later and accused Gimenez of caring more about publicity than getting a stadium deal done. Raquel Regalado accused Gimenez of "slander" on a Univision radio show that same day.
The irony is that both the City and County Mayor have been allured by the prospect of Beckham's publicity. Neither is innocent in that regard. Tempers barely had time to cool before, two weeks later, MBU hinted at yet another turn. Tim Leiweke, Beckham's newest partner and top negotiator, publicly claimed that private landowners around Marlins park were holding up the Marlins Park deal. He accused them of "an absolutely unrealistic conversation" and said they could "blow this deal up."
Yet here's the odd part: the Miami Herald reported that one such landowner, Violeta Jimenez, was never even contacted by MBU. Another landowner, Rene Diaz, initially refused to disclose how much he asked for, but MBU claimed it was thirty times the land's appraised value. Diaz then reduced his asking price by half, but never heard back from MBU. A December 8, 2015 story by the Miami Herald featured even more property owners, one who never heard from Team Beckham and another who spoke with MBU by phone just once, and for only ten minutes.
Meanwhile, as MBU was supposedly negotiating seriously with private landowners, on November 13, 2015, David Beckham met with the Miami-Dade School District Superintendent Albert Carvalho because a deal was allegedly close. Only a few days earlier, Carvalho had publicly proclaimed that the school district would want at least a million dollars in public benefits. Leiweke responded with an op-ed in the Herald a few days later that the stadium would be "the most financially-responsible, publicly-vetted stadium agreement Miami has ever seen." And, of course, Raquel Regalado relished telling a national outlet, the New York Times, that the Board would unanimously approve the deal—probably after Thanksgiving.
Charm offensive aside, use of the Marlins site still depended on a local referendum that would be held in March during the Presidential primaries. The Miami City Commission planned to meet on December 10, 2015 to vote on a resolution authorizing the referendum. MBU had their own deadline: on December 5, they had to show progress to the Major League Soccer Board of Governors or risk losing their franchise. That's why, only a few weeks after Beckham met with Carvalho and Leiweke published his gushing op-ed, rumors of the deal's collapse started to spread. On November 30, MBU spokesman Tadd Schwartz, in response to a report by NBC 6, confirmed that the team was now looking at privately-held land in Miami-Dade County.
Records and public statements show that Team Becks flip-flopped in a pretty callous manner.
City Mayor Tomas Regalado disputed the NBC 6 story and assured the press that the MBU stadium resolution was still on the December 10, 2015 meeting agenda. City records confirmed this. However, records obtained from Miami-Dade County show that only a few days later, December 3, 2015, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez notified the County Commissioners that he had signed a non-binding letter of intent to negotiate the sale of the County's land in Overtown to MBU as part of their new stadium plans. Only two days later, Beckham showed the Overtown stadium proposal (his fourth) to the MLS Board of Governors and they approved it. In the blink of an eye, County Mayor Gimenez stole the City's thunder. On a personal level, the Regalados could not claim Team Beckham as their own.
Why did Team Becks pivot from a stadium deal without any County involvement to one with exclusive County involvement? Well, it could just be a question of dollars and cents. I checked the County property records for the appraised value of the land in question. The two large parcels, owned by Windsor Investment Holdings LLC and New Miami River View LLC, have a total appraised value of about $4.4 million dollars. Team Becks allegedly already has a deal to buy these lands if they can also get the City's nearby lot. The City's parcel is appraised at about $3.17 million. In case you have trouble with math, that is considerably less than the $100 million in community benefits offer to the Miami-Dade School District and the initial $30 million asked for by a single property owner near Marlins Park. And even less than the $20 million that Miami County Commissioner Carollo said the County wanted for their land.
Still, lots of questions remain unanswered. First, and most importantly, can the County and MBU reach a deal for their land, which consists of a vacant lot and a truck depot being used by the Sewer Department? Second, MBU's new Overtown stadium plan has a major design flaw: a lack of parking. Just look at MBU's recent stadium design release. Fans will just have to Uber or catch a ride on a helicopter to games. Local input was only sought after the proposal, when Beckham held a town hall with Overtown residents. Miriti Murungi, a digital producer for Soccer Gods, went to said meeting and observed two markedly different groups in attendance: a few affluent, scarf-wielding soccer fans, and a large group of working-class residents who were primarily African-American. They had boring questions, like who would pay for necessary road improvements, one of the hidden costs of stadiums.
As you'll recall, Beckham's first two stadium proposals were torpedoed by a powerful cruise line and a contingent of affluent condo owners. In the cynical sense, he just may have found a target that he can pummel into acquiescence: working-class residents in a pretty dilapidated corner of the city. The best news for Miami soccer fans, though, is that experienced MLS owner and negotiator Leiweke is on board and also that MLS has followed MBU's convoluted stadium journey, conveniently forgetting their earlier insistence that the Miami stadium be "downtown."
From a posh beach-front locale to vacant land in working-class Overtown, MLS' wanderings in Miami are a story of stillborn ideas and sudden impulses. As new MBU partner Leiweke admitted, "We've shot ourselves in the foot quite a bit in the last two years." Despite the rambling road, Beckham gets credit for still trying. And his glow still seems to be alluring to City and County officials, even after they've been burned before, and even after all this.
Fans of soccer, though, should reserve their optimism and expect a long and winding path. This story is far from over. South Florida will eventually have a new MLS team and maybe a stadium, but you can expect many more gray hairs on your head before either happens.