Beckham’s Miami stadium plan threatened with new deadline and political pressure

Miami commissioners have set a date for a showdown over the future of a proposed stadium complex for Inter Miami, David Beckham’s upcoming Major League Soccer team.

Beckham and his partners want to build Miami Freedom Park, a $1 billion complex with a hotel, retail center and office park with a 25,000 seat stadium on Miami’s only city-owned golf course, Melreese. In November, voters authorized the city to negotiate a 99-year lease.

On Thursday, four of five commissioners voted to force administrators to present them a lease by Sept. 16, before this year’s municipal election, which could shift the balance for or against the development. The resolution, opposed only by Commission Chairman Ken Russell, orders the administration to bring a proposed lease to the commission before some of the project’s biggest opponents are either term-limited out of office or possibly voted out.

“You know that I have an election in November, and I’m totally against this,” said Commissioner Manolo Reyes, the plan’s fiercest critic, who has pledged to vote against any lease.

Given the opposition from Reyes and Commissioner Wilfredo “Willy” Gort, whose district includes Melreese, the resolution might threaten the future of Miami Freedom Park. But the resolution does not outline what would happen if administrators do not bring a negotiated lease to commissioners by the deadline, or if a lease is voted down then. It appears the measure, sponsored by Reyes and Commissioner Joe Carollo, simply puts political pressure on the Beckham group, led locally by managing partner and MasTec chairman Jorge Mas, to come to terms with city administrators in the next several months.

Thursday’s resolution might also set the stage for the commission to place more restrictions and requirements on the lease negotiations. Sources in City Hall say the project’s opponents might bring more resolutions mandating timelines and terms in the lease, including a requirement that Inter Miami develop new parks elsewhere in the city to make up for the loss of the golf course. Each resolution could stymie progress toward a lease.

Carollo clearly stated his intentions even if the Miami Freedom Park proposal fails. He thinks Melreese should be redeveloped no matter what and turned into a moneymaker for the city.

“I’m going to make a motion that we put it out to bid, for the best and highest use,” he said.

“All along we have wanted to finalize an agreement as soon as possible,” Mas said in a statement after the vote. “We will be ready to present the lease to the city as soon as its consultants are selected.”

Mayor Francis Suarez, City Manager Emilio Gonzalez and other administrators have started meeting with Mas to discuss preliminary terms of the lease. One of the most significant questions surrounding the referendum involved the cost of cleaning up the land under Melreese, which is contaminated with ash from an old municipal incinerator. The true cost of the remediation and extent of the cleanup are still unknown.

A statement from the Mas organization said: “We have already completed phase one of environmental testing, which includes analysis of existing wells and marking of utilities, and have begun phase two, which involves deeper examination of the site and is expected to take about 6 weeks to complete.”

The vote in Miami came on the same day that Inter Miami officials announced that the team wants to play its first two seasons at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. The team has bid to redevelop the Fort Lauderdale site into a $60 million soccer complex. It is one of two bids to build a soccer complex at Lockhart — another group, FXE Futbol, has submitted a competing bid for its own redevelopment. Fort Lauderdale commissioners will consider the bids Monday.

The Miami resolution also requires the administration to get commission approval before hiring any outside consultants to work on the lease negotiation.

During the debate, Reyes questioned why two officials who advocated for the park — Suarez and Gonzalez — are representing the city in negotiations. Suarez and Gonzalez pushed to hold a referendum last year.

Gonzalez argued the referendum merely set the framework for a lease. He echoed Carollo, who said he expects the Beckham group to agree to higher rent payments and other terms more favorable to the city. Voters approved a rent plan that entitles the city to a minimum of $3.6 million annually or 5 percent of gross rent revenue collected from tenants at the site. Carollo and Gonzalez think that number should be higher.

“Before I bring a bad deal, I will bring no deal,” Gonzalez said.