Will Miami-Dade voters bend to Beckham’s request for public land?

England’s celebrity jock David Beckham wants valuable public property along waterfront Miami to build his dream — a Major League Soccer stadium.

But the Urban Environment League says the land is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and shouldn’t be given away.

“Ten acres in that location (are) worth somewhere between $300 (million) to $400 million,” said Greg Bush, president of the Urban Environment League, an advocacy group that supports environmentally responsible development in Miami-Dade County.

The land is the city-owned deep-water basin, known as the Florida East Coast Railway slip, along Biscayne Boulevard, adjacent to the newly opened Museum Park in Miami.

“There is no way the Beckham people will pay the fair market value for that land,” Bush says.

Beckham, a multimillionaire and retired British soccer player, and his group of investors want the land to build a 20,000-seat stadium. The estimated cost of the stadium is $250 million.

City officials say Beckham’s investment group, Miami Beckham United, offered to rent the land for $500,000 annually, a far cry from the $12 million to $14 million market rate.

Calls to Beckham’s Miami public relations partner, Schwartz Media Strategies, were not returned. The PR agency, did, however, email media releases and artistic renderings of the project.

Bush said the deal the group is proposing just doesn’t pencil out for taxpayers.

“The idea is that they are going to be having 25 games per year. So, how are they going to make money to pay for such building with only 25 games per year?” Bush said. “They can’t unless they have a more commercial plans for out there.”

A change over the original plan

MBU’s original plan was to build an open-air soccer stadium at the Port of Miami, taking advantage of the spectacular views of the downtown skyline and the bay.

But opposition from the Port Authority and the cargo and cruise industries prompted Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to come up with a Plan B: Use the Florida East Coast marine railway slip, owned in part by the city of Miami.

The new plan would require filing in the slip area and taking a neighboring 4.2-acre chunk of Miami Museum Park’s roughly 19 acres of green space. Together the two plots would form an 8.5-acre area to build the stadium.

Beckham’s group called Plan B “the empty plot of land situated behind American Airlines Arena.” The infill plan would create “a net-gain of more than four acres of public park space.”

“The resulting park will include a total of 23 acres of contiguous green space connecting Pérez Art Museum Miami and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science with Bayfront Park,” the group said in a media release.

Miami Curbed, an online magazine, said borrowing a few acres from Museum Park would essentially cut it off from Biscayne Boulevard, but in exchange the group promises 8.2 acres of green space behind the stadium, giving the park a net gain of 20 percent.

Nearby condo-dwellers see it differently.

Dalia Lagoa, president of the owner’s association at 900 Biscayne, told the Miami Herald the area was always meant to be parkland.

“I can’t imagine Beckham going to the Mayor of London and asking to put a soccer stadium in Kensington Park, in St. James’ Park or in Hyde Park,” Lagoa said.

It’s not the first time Museum Park, a rare 30-acre urban bay front park, has been the target of sports fans.

“We faced the same issue with the Marlins (Major League Baseball) stadium 14 years ago,” Bush said, when activists put the kibosh on the ballpark project and instead managed to cement a plan for an urban park that ultimately would include two museums, a bay walk, renovations to deep-water boat slips and an open expanse of tree-shaded parkland.

But whether its baseball or soccer, many in the community don’t want the parkland converted to a stadium.

In a letter signed by several civic leaders opposing the soccer stadium project, they wrote:

“The Citizens consensus was clear: to preserve the area as green space with two museums, to maintain public access to the waterfront, to provide unobstructed views from Biscayne Boulevard toward the bay for people of all social and economic backgrounds, and to preserve FEC slip as a waterfront recreational area with bay walk and a place where boats could tie up and enjoy waterfront park.”

“This proposal should be rejected. It is not in harmony with the vision of Miami as a world class city with parks and open areas available for all, for generations to come.”

But Miami’s “vision” of the park is about revenue. Museum Park is expected to bring $20 million to local businesses, create more than 1,700 jobs, generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenue and attract up to 600,000 visitors to downtown Miami annually, according to a report from Miami’s Museum Park Community Benefits Committee. It’s unknown how the Beckham plan would impact on those projections.

“The stadium is not going to make money for the people in Miami, but for the investors,” Bush said.

“This is a betrayal of the public trust,” he added. “Those are private investors. Why should they be given wide waterfront public land?”

The pitch

The Beckham investment group says their intentions are nothing but for hones.

“I’ve always said that our team will be the people’s club — another downtown amenity that makes the entire Miami-Dade community proud,” Beckham said in a statement released by Schwartz Media. “By expanding Museum Park with new public spaces anchored by world-class art and science museums and a world-class soccer club, we’ll be activating the waterfront on a year-round basis.”

In exchange for the land, the group says they will hire local construction crews and operations employees. They say they will foster local talent among Miami’s youth and  develop a new youth soccer academy to promote youth soccer, health and fitness throughout Miami.

They also will keep the low profile by having the majority of MLS games played mostly on weekend evenings, and will include a comprehensive traffic management plan to minimize impacts on local roadways.

Soccer fan Daniele Fortunato, an Italian professional soccer coach and a former player, says Miami-Dade needs to move fast to land Beckham and his pro team.

“This is a unique opportunity, that will not last,” Fortunato said, who runs the Miami United Soccer Football Club, which was founded in late 2012.

The group also plans to seek state taxpayer assistance for the project, but will not call on city or county funds.

The city of Miami owns the railway slip and Museum Park, while the county owns Parcel B. For the project to go forward, both county and city would have to agree to a land deal that would exempt the stadium from property taxes, though both the county mayor and city mayor said they would require a payment in lieu of taxes. That would act as rent to the county, which Gimenez said he would then turn over to the city for parks maintenance and operations.

Miami voters would have to vote on the project on a referendum in November.

Contact Marianela Toledo at [email protected] or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter.

Published with permission from Watchdog.org

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