The five plus years saga that has been David Beckham’s quest to find a site suitable for a soccer stadium for his planned Miami MLS expansion bid has certainly been unbelievable at points.
The former soccer mega-star and his partners received permission recently to have the latest attempt (site number six for those counting), a development known as Miami Freedom Park, included on the November ballot as a city-wide referendum question. The voters will decide whether or not Freedom Park is a positive project for Miami to undertake.
The land that the proposed Freedom Park sits on is currently a public golf course. The opposition of the planned proposal for the stadium and other retail/hotel/office space construction will be those who want to save the golf course and those who want open space. The other consideration will be traffic impact because the land sits next to Miami International Airport.
Beckham has seen the other attempts to build a soccer stadium for his planned new club come apart for all sorts of reasons. The Port of Miami site received almost instant backlash from the cruise industry due to traffic concerns on weekends when they embark and disembark the most ships.
The site next to Marlins Park failed for a variety of reasons, and the Overtown proposal seemed like it was moving forward (see my earlier article on it) but that proposal relied on a parcel of land that was owned by the county. The sale of that land dragged on for a protracted amount of time until it was finally approved.
However, Beckham brought in new partners, the Mas brothers, and they did not want to move forward with the Overtown site. That area of Miami is notable for violent crime and they may have had concerns over putting a stadium and retail development in that neighborhood.
The issue with the golf course site that is now being dubbed Miami Freedom Park is that, according to reports in the Miami Herald the site has environmental contamination. The land at one time was the site of a large trash incinerator nicknamed by Miami locals as “Old Smoky”.
The disruption of the ground to build a 25,000 seat soccer stadium, a 750 hotel rooms, 600,000 square feet of retail space, and 400,000 square feet of office space is going to require a massive environmental cleanup of the site. The cost of getting the land properly remediated is going to be a tremendous outlay of money. The question of who pays for that is going to be central to this site plan.
MLS has longed wished to return to the Miami market because they see it as a missed opportunity from the failure of the Miami Fusion franchise early in the history of the league. The Fusion played in Fort Lauderdale, far from the downtown area of Miami, and removed from any direct public transportation access.
Miami had tremendous TV ratings both for Spanish language and English telecasts of the World Cup from Russia which took place this summer. MLS has given Beckham a deadline of October 2019 to be the latest point for his group to break ground on a stadium. The league strongly prefers the expansion bids to include a soccer specific stadium because it allows for maximized control of the revenue streams generated compared to renting a facility used by an NFL or MLB team.
The league gave Beckham a sweet clause in his player contract to own an expansion franchise in his retirement by only having to pay a fraction of the expansion fee that other teams have been required to pay upon entry into MLS.
The speculation is that Freedom Park could provide some outstanding enhancements to that neighborhood of Miami that would also benefit the whole city and region by having an MLS team back in South Florida.
The detractors think that the project is too ambitious, and others want to save the golf course. It is being rumored that a golf course, range, and training center are being added to the newest Freedom Park renderings, potentially as a compromise as residents will decide at the polls.
Beckham deserves some credit for sticking with the Miami opportunity for over five years. His bid was not tied to any specific geographical area. He could have pursued a new bid in San Diego, Tampa, or another area where MLS is seeking to potentially add a franchise. He stuck with Miami despite numerous setbacks and uncooperative political and community support at points.
The counterpoint there would be that Beckham stayed with Miami because the market has the most potential financial upside. The demographics of the city coupled with the size of the TV market and the weather all combine to make that an attractive site for a future expansion franchise.
Freedom Park, as the name suggests will ironically have its destiny determined by a democratic voting mechanism known as the referendum. The people will decide whether or not the site should remain a golf course and green space, or whether it will become the site of the next MLS franchise.
In either case, the remaining issue at hand is that Beckham, the Mas brothers, and his other investment partners are running out of time to get this Miami team up and running. It may result in five years of futility for Beckham, and it will leave MLS with no choice but to go in another direction as they look to expand the league.