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They haven’t taken a vote yet, but Miami commissioners Wednesday afternoon are expected to call for a November referendum to ask voters if the city should negotiate a no-bid lease with David Beckham’s Major League Soccer ownership group to build a commercial and soccer stadium complex on the city’s only municipal golf course.
Commissioner Ken Russell, believed to be the swing vote on the five-member commission and the reason the commission postponed last week’s vote until Wednesday, told a packed chamber at City Hall that he will vote in favor of sending the issue to the voters after receiving some verbal and some written concessions he demanded from the Beckham group.
Although Russell appeared to give the Beckham group a 3-2 favorable vote, the commission has not yet voted on whether to hold a referendum. Before breaking for a two-hour lunch break Wednesday, the commission did vote down a motion to reject the referendum proposal, signaling a path to a favorable vote for Beckham and his local partner, MasTec executive Jorge Mas. In that 3-2 vote, commissioners Manolo Reyes and Willy Gort dissented.
“I had resigned myself to voting no,” Russell said during the break, describing his thoughts after an late-night meeting with Mas that concluded hours before Wednesday’s morning meeting. “All the issues I demanded concessions for were issues the residents had brought for me.”
His outstanding sticking point after the late-night meeting: a $15 minimum wage for all employees at Miami Freedom Park, a proposed stadium and commercial complex that would replace Melreese Country Club, the municipal golf course near Miami International Airport.
Mas offered a verbal concession, with a caveat. He pledged to pay all employees of the team ownership the living wage, including janitorial staff, groundskeepers, stadium workers, etc. He also agreed to mandate a living wage from his tenants who would lease commercial space in the development, though that would begin as an $11 wage in the first year and increase annually until it reaches $15.
After Mas’s comments, Russell said he would vote yes on holding the referendum.
Commissioners are expected to reconvene at 3:30 p.m. to continue discussion, which will likely start with comments and questions from Commissioner Joe Carollo.
Through much of the morning meeting, Reyes was the most vocal critic of the proposal, specifically the process the city has followed to get a referendum on the ballot.
“We are circumventing our own statutes, our own laws,” he told commissioners, hours after the city was served a lawsuit from an attorney accusing the city of doing just that.
Nevertheless, Russell’s vote has changed to a yes, likely providing the third vote necessary to put the question on the ballot.
Intense skepticism and outright opposition have swirled around the matter, largely because of the rushed process to present the plan to the public during the last few weeks. Mas shared scant details only days before public votes, and city officials did not demand many particulars during that time.
Even before Wednesday’s vote, a new term sheet was released by the city late Tuesday afternoon, and the full agenda documentation for Wednesday’s meeting was published online overnight.
During the break, Russell emphasized that his vote only supports sending the question to voters, adding that residents shouldn’t ease up on their scrutiny.
He expects more details of the plan to be released before the November vote to address voters’ concerns.
“Stay skeptical. They should be. I remain skeptical,” he said. “We have a history of bad deals in Miami.”
If it clears the commission Wednesday and the referendum passes in November, the City Commission would still have to approve a no-bid lease with the Beckham group with a super-majority vote, meaning four of five commissioners.