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Beckham stadium delayed? Miami still awaits proposal to build on public golf course

David Beckham speaks at an event where it was announced that Major League Soccer is bringing an expansion team to Miami, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, in Miami. The team is backed by Beckham and a team of investors. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

For two months, David Beckham’s group has talked about switching from land bought in Overtown for a Miami soccer stadium to building it on the city-owned Melreese golf course – a plan that would have to move quickly because the administration wants voter approval for such a deal.

But Beckham’s group has taken so long to produce the plans it promised that hopes of putting the lease on the August ballot have dried up, and it now appears the measure couldn’t be voted on before November.

The delay could nudge the ballot question into tricky political territory as the November ballot – already jammed with 13 state constitutional amendments – might also include a loaded menu of city ballot questions involving leases of public land and the power structure of Miami’s government.

It’s unclear if Melreese has become the front-runner for a Major League Soccer stadium – Beckham and partner Jorge Mas have not publicly indicated so – but city officials have said the soccer group has promised renderings and economic impact figures for a Melreese stadium.

Still, there are long-standing plans to build on nine acres in Overtown that were approved by MLS and have never been ruled out, and Beckham’s group has met with Doral officials to discuss interest in privately owned land in the suburban west Miami-Dade city.

Miami City Manager Emilio Gonzalez told the Miami Herald he had not received a proposal from the Beckham team as of Tuesday, more than two months after Beckham and partner Jorge Mas met with him and Mayor Francis Suarez to discuss redeveloping part of Melreese golf course into a large soccer complex with a youth academy, retail, office space and park land.

Gonzalez said he does not want to rush any proposal through an administrative review and put it before the City Commission, which would have to approve the proposal at its May 24 meeting – the last meeting before the county’s June 8 deadline for cities to submit questions for the August ballot.

“At this point, I don’t see that happening,” Gonzalez said. “It would have to be in November.”

November’s ballot could be crowded with other questions on large-scale redevelopments of public land in Miami, including two high-profile waterfront projects : A residential, hotel and riverside park plan being pursued by Hyatt Hotels for the site of the Downtown Hyatt Regency and Knight Center near the mouth of the Miami River, and a deal with the Adler Group to build a similar two-tower project where the city’s waterfront administration building stands in exchange for a new government building elsewhere.

Another looming referendum: An overhaul of Miami’s government that would make Suarez a “strong mayor,” the city’s most powerful elected official who, as the top administrator, would control the bureaucracy’s day-to-day operations. Suarez is pursuing the referendum via ballot petition, an initiative that already faces opposition from Commissioner Joe Carollo, who is threatening to push several competing government-makeover questions onto the ballot.

Suarez said he doesn’t worry about the viability of strong mayor and stadium questions together on a November ballot.

“I have a lot of faith in the democratic process and in the city of Miami’s voters to decide what’s best for themselves,” he said.

Ballot congestion aside, a Melreese proposal is destined to become a flashpoint for green-space advocates and golfers who favor the course. A chorus of voices from the golfing community has spoken out against a stadium, according to publications such as Golfworld and an online petition to keep Melreese the way it is that has garnered about 1,400 signatures.

On the other hand, proponents could point to a recent audit that cast a poor light on the financial management of Melreese, which is operated by the family-run DeLucca Enterprises. In August, Miami’s independent auditor general issued a report calling out Melreese’s standards for awarding vendor contracts and general financial mismanagement.

The audit, first reported on by WPLG Local 10 in in March, found the DeLuccas gave a family-owned vendor a contract worth $52,642, failed to submit a budget to the city and missed deadlines for remitting credit card revenue to the city. The audit recommended stronger financial controls in the parks department.

The DeLucca family could not be reached for comment for this story before it was published online early Wednesday. Later Wednesday, an attorney representing the DeLuccas sent the Herald a copy of the company’s response to the city audit.

In his response, Charles Delucca III rebuffed all of the auditor general’s recommendations, saying he has saved the city money by forgoing the typical open bid process to find vendors. He argued that if the “best practices” were followed for the golf course, it would cost the city more money. Delucca never disputes hiring an affiliated company for work at Melreese, but he insisted he doesn’t personally benefit from those contracts because the vendors make little to no profit, which keeps costs to the city low.

“In summary, Delucca does not receive any significant benefit from the transactions with Delucca affiliates, and all transactions with affiliates have substantially benefited the city by reducing the overall operating costs at Melreese,” Delucca wrote.

Delucca also pushed back on the budgeting and credit card revenue issues, saying the city failed to include him in discussions about Melreese’s budget over the years, forcing him to contend with insufficient funding to run the course, and criticizing the city’s internal accounting for bookkeeping discrepancies.

Gonzalez said he wants a review of Melreese this summer to see if the operation has changed.

“I’ve been made aware of of the audit, and my plan is to conduct another audit at the one-year mark to see if they have tightened up their financial operations,” he said.

The DeLuccas are well-regarded for their youth programs at Melreese, which city officials have said would continue to exist even if other parts of the park were redeveloped into a stadium.

2018 Miami Herald

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