Miami Freedom Park Soccer Development
A day after Miami voters opened the door for the city to negotiate a deal to build a soccer stadium and commercial complex for David Beckham’s Major League Soccer team, negotiations have been blocked because of an ethics complaint over improper lobbying by the team’s owners. In his complaint filed with the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, attorney David Winker claimed that team owners failed to register as lobbyists before urging commissioners to place their plan on the November ballot. Winker said principals of the team, including Beckham and brothers Jorge and Jose Mas, failed to register as lobbyists for the business entity that would negotiate a lease with the city, Miami Freedom Park LLC. Beckham and the Mas brothers are registered to lobby for a different company, Miami Beckham United, LLC. Beckham plans to transform a city-owned golf course into Miami Freedom Park, a massive stadium and commercial complex. Now the ownership group has permission to negotiate a lease of city land next to Miami International Airport, currently home to Melreese golf course, for a 73-acre redevelopment that would include a 25,000-seat stadium, at least 750 hotel rooms and at least 1 million square feet of office, retail and commercial space. Owners also agreed to fund a 58-acre public park next to the complex. After running through multiple possible sites over the years, including land in Overtown that ownership purchased, Melreese became the top choice after Jorge Mas argued a stadium needed surrounding development to be profitable. When the Mas brothers joined, the league gave Miami a team and a deadline — building permits for a stadium by November 2019. Since Melreese was considered as a location for the stadium, the concept stirred controversy and sparked multiple lawsuits. Critics framed the proposal as a lucrative land grab dressed up as a necessary project to give MLS a home in Miami. They defended the value of Melreese, particularly a youth golf and mentoring program housed there called First Tee Miami, and blasted the rushed process that led to the referendum. When commissioners voted to place the question on the November ballot after only days of considering preliminary lease terms, several questions remained unanswered. Among them: The true cost of cleaning up toxic soil underneath Melreese, dirt contaminated with ash from an old municipal incinerator. Those questions will remain as the city officials and team owners begin lease negotiations. The lease still needs approval from four of five city commissioners — which might be a long shot, given strong opposition from at least two commissioners. In July, Gort and Commissioner Manolo Reyes voted against placing the referendum on the ballot. On Monday, they both told the Herald they had not been swayed and they hoped the referendum would fail.