1 Fort Lauderdale
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The David Beckham group scored a win in Fort Lauderdale Tuesday night, but it was the Wednesday morning tweet that caused problems in Miami-Dade.
“Our parks are cow pastures and kids have to go to Orlando to play tourneys,” Beckham lead partner Jorge Mas wrote in a 1:12 a.m. Twitter post responding to a question about why a $60 million training facility for his and Beckham’s Major League Soccer team was going to Broward instead of Miami. “Sad state of affairs in Miami Dade.”
Mas had tried to take over part of a Miami-Dade park for the MLS training complex and soccer academy that’s now slated to go in the boarded-up Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, where the City Commission voted unanimously Monday to start negotiations with the Beckham group.
While the team is slated to play home games at a 25,000-seat Miami stadium, Mas abandoned Miami-Dade as a training site over complications tied to a county charter amendment requiring voter approval to build on a county park. Mas dinged that legal hurdle in the Twitter post, too.
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“It could have been in Miami but ZERO ability to build world class complex,” Mas wrote. “Their hands are tied by antiquated laws.” That prompted a Twitter response Wednesday morning by Mayor Carlos Gimenez: “Democracy is never antiquated.”
Mas sent out a conciliatory message Wednesday morning, and said he didn’t mean to denigrate the county’s parks system. “There is no better investment than expanding and upgrading fields in our parks,” he wrote. “Inter Miami is committed to help.”
The online venting by Mas arrives at a delicate time for Beckham’s six-year quest for an MLS stadium in Miami.
City voters last fall authorized Miami to waive bidding rules and negotiate a stadium deal exclusively with the Beckham group for the public Melreese golf course. But four of the five city commissioners still must approve an actual lease for the stadium, mall and office complex the partners want to build there.
Commissioner Joe Carollo, a former Miami mayor, said it was jarring to learn the Beckham group was pursuing a different stadium in Fort Lauderdale while in negotiations with the city.
“I think we are all hit by surprise,” Carollo said. “It doesn’t exactly come off that well for us.”
The Beckham group’s designs on Lockhart, once home to an MLS squad that ultimately folded, injected another government into a Miami political drama that’s been under way since the retired soccer star first announced his plans to bring a franchise to the Magic City in 2013.
His partners have bounced between negotiations for sites owned by the city and Miami-Dade, ultimately landing on the Miami golf course as the site for a planned commercial complex, a new 58-acre city park and stadium.
The Fort Lauderdale stadium would have only 18,000 seats and serve as the center of a training complex for both the MLS pro team and various squads the team will launch as part of the franchise’s player-development system. The Beckham group said it will allow youth leagues and other community groups to use the fields for free when the MLS operation doesn’t need them.
In Miami, the MLS stadium complex includes soccer fields that will go on top of parking garages and be available to the paying public in the same way that municipal parks charge rental fees for fields, the Beckham group said this week.
While the crucial votes for Melreese sit on the five-seat Miami City Commission, other politicians are trying to exert influence.
Joe Martinez, a Miami-Dade commissioner, recently sent a letter to the city commissioner who has been the most vocal in his opposition to the Melreese proposal. Martinez, whose western district does not include the stadium site, wrote Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes that the golf course currently offers tourists approaching MIA a view of “green areas, lakes and palm trees.”
“To replace that golf course with buildings, parking lots and concrete at that location is a disservice,” Martinez wrote. He also knocked the idea of Beckham putting a training facility aimed at younger players in Fort Lauderdale while Miami is stuck with stadium traffic. “Wow!” Martinez wrote in the March 12 letter made public this week. “That’s a great deal for Broward County!”
Mas hasn’t responded publicly to Martinez. In his early-morning Twitter exchange with sports radio host Andy Slater, he predicted the 60 percent support from Miami voters on last fall’s stadium referendum would assure approval of “Miami Freedom Park” by the City Commission, too. “This deal will happen,” Mas wrote. “We do not live in Venezuela or Cuba. Democracy reigns in the USA.”
Mas, the chairman of Mas Tec, a Fortune 500 infrastructure company based in Miami, said in his follow-up Twitter posts that he was conveying messages from parents. “Our kids need more soccer fields,” Mas wrote. “Fields in our Miami Dade parks are torn up from overuse as parents tell us they look more like cow pastures than well kept fields.”
Miami-Dade’s parks system has been underfunded for years, and its 2019 budget lists $21 million in annual needs the county can’t afford. That includes $500,000 a year in ground crews to keep up maintenance at the county’s most popular parks, and nearly $1 million in upgrades to meet demands by park goers.
Antonio “Motor” Paz, a longtime youth coach in the Miami area, said Mas definitely has a point when it comes to the county’s need for better soccer fields.
“Probably the biggest problem we have in Miami-Dade County in terms of soccer facilities is we have a shortage — a serious shortage,” he said. “When you have a shortage, you have an over-usage. If they went to go look at fields today, they’re going to look really beat up. Unless they’re AstroTurf.”
In an interview, Gimenez dismissed the Mas parks gibe as a late-night error.
“I think it was probably something that was done at one in the morning,” he said during an interview at Hard Rock Stadium after a ceremony for this week’s tennis tournament. “We will be happy to talk to him about how the team can help our parks get better fields. … We have really good facilities, but they can always be better.”
Gimenez, whose son C.J. Gimenez works for Mas as a lobbyist on the Miami deal, also offered the most detailed account yet of the Beckham group’s pursuit of a real estate from the county’s parks system.
He and Mas were in talks for building the MLS training complex at Amelia Earhart Park outside Hialeah, but Gimenez said the soccer group did not want to wait for approval by voters. A charter provision in Miami-Dade bars special elections for approving park construction, so Mas and partners would have to wait until 2020 for a potential green light.
“We didn’t have a deal, because we never got that far,” he said. “The referendum requirement didn’t fit their time line.”
The county mayor has been meeting with Mas in recent weeks, and at Hard Rock he hinted the two were in talks to recruit a large firm to the office park the Beckham group wants to build at Melreese.
One of Beckham’s soccer partners is Masayoshi Son, CEO of Softbank Group, a Japan-based conglomerate that owns Sprint and other companies, including Fortress, the parent of the company behind the Brightline train company.
“I’m not so much interested in the soccer side of it, as I am in the technology-park aspect of it and what it can do for Miami-Dade,” Gimenez said. “We have an effort to recruit some major funds to Miami-Dade, and that could be the place.”
Gimenez has recused himself from projects involving C.J. Gimenez and his other son, Julio Gimenez. He has declined to recuse himself from talks with Mas. On Wednesday, he said there was no conflict “because my son and I don’t talk about it.”