Given the history of Marlins Park, recommending the construction of stadiums to Miami-Dade voters and taxpayers is like walking through a minefield.
It’s a prickly question being posed only to Miami residents: Should soccer star David Beckham and partner Jorge Mas be allowed to negotiate a no-bid contract to build a soccer stadium for Beckham’s Major League Soccer franchise, plus a commercial complex at the city-owned Melreese Golf Course near Miami International Airport?
If voters approve, Mas and Beckham can begin crafting a 99-year, no-bid lease for the development of Miami Freedom Park, a $1 billion retail, office, hotel, a 25,000-seat soccer stadium complex and a 58-acre public park on 72-acres of land.
If voters approve, Mas and Beckham can begin crafting a 99-year, no-bid lease for the development of Miami Freedom Park, a $1 billion retail, office, hotel, a 25,000-seat soccer stadium complex. The overall footprint of the redevelopment is about 131 acres. Of that plot of land, 73-acres would be leased for the soccer stadium and commercial complex. In addition, there is a 58-acre public park that would be developed but remains under the full control of the city.
We know the numbers are fluid and agreements are still fuzzy, but we’re going to recommend that Miami voters take a leap of faith and vote Yes, clearing the way for the Beckham/Mas project to be launched.
And here’s why:
We get that much is at stake. And if this deal was being proposed by an out-of-town mogul with no stake in our community, the Board would have no qualms recommending rejecting the project to voters. And we have been skeptical from the start. We swatted down Beckham’s early efforts to grab waterfront property. But joining him in his 4-year-old effort to build a stadium, not in Overtown but in Melreese, is Jorge Mas and his brother, who are well-known community leaders and philanthropists.
Their family fortune stems from the locally-based MasTec, an engineering and construction company that generates billions a year. They are not former Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, or his arrogant stepson, David Samson, who gleefully saddled Miami-Dade voters with a years-long tax burden.
We know Beckham and the Mas family will make money on this project, but we also believe they will go out of their way to be fair and just to this community and to the residents around the proposed stadium complex. Miami has been home to the Mas family for decades. It’s the place where their late patriarch Jorge Mas Canosa became a popular Cuban exile leader.
Would we expect the same moral obligation from an outside developer who goes through the competitive bid process and wins? No.
We believed Mas when he told the Board that no public money will be tapped and that taxpayers will not pay any of the costs associated with preparing Melreese for redevelopment, including necessary utility work, underground infrastructure, road improvements and a pedestrian bridge over the Tamiami Canal to connect the park to the Miami Intermodal Center, making it a new stop for visitors.
We believe he will oversee a traffic plan to ensure that visitor traffic to and from the airport is not adversely affected. That would be irresponsible, damaging and unforgivable.
We believe that Mas will live up to his promise to address the long list of issues, expertly detailed in articles by Miami Herald reporter Joey Flechas.
They include concerns about soil contamination, a better focus on the financial benefits to the city, the value of public parks, traffic flow around a major airport and the fate of the First Tee Miami, a youth golf program at Melreese. Not to mention that a fair market value is paid for the city land.
Are we naive? No, we’re realistic. At some point, local residents, collectively, are going to have to move past the fear of being fooled again by a stadium project. The original Marlins Park 2009 deal had Miami-Dade and Miami contributing about $490 million for the privately owned $640 million stadium, which was then sold with the team for $1.2 billion in 2017. Loria did not share sale profits with the county.
The fact is that Miamians’ needs are changing and the landscape is also changing to accommodate them. Take note of how the Underline will eventually alter the look and use of South Dixie Highway under the elevated Metrorail tracks. And millennials have not embraced golf; only a lucky few enjoy Melreese now.
The Mas family and Beckham, who has held on longer than anyone thought to the idea of a Miami stadium, are the right team to get the community over their resistance to new stadium projects.
If things go south, the Mas family will face the public’s wrath — so will we. However, we’re optimistic.
The Miami Herald recommends a Yes vote on Miami Referendum 1 — #378.