MIAMI ̶ David Beckham would be the betting-line favorite in any popularity contest.
Winning unified support for his efforts to secure a site to build a stadium for his still-unnamed Major League Soccer franchise has been a much tougher proposition for the international soccer icon.
That was evident again Thursday as an overflow crowd jammed Miami City Hall to take turns speaking for and against the latest plan for a 25,000-seat stadium as part of a larger Miami Freedom Park complex on the site of the city’s only public golf course.
Beckham and partner Jorge Mas, a prominent South Florida businessman, were seeking approval from the Miami City Commission to put their latest stadium plan up for a city referendum on Nov. 6.
Discussion continued until late Thursday when the issue was deferred to a special meeting on July 18 at 10 a.m.
If the referendum is approved, voters would not be deciding whether to approve the stadium.
The actual question would be whether to allow the city to change its laws and waive competitive bidding to allow the commission to negotiate a deal to lease 73 acres near Miami International Airport on the site of the city-owned Melreese golf course for a privately-funded 25,000-seat soccer stadium, youth soccer fields, restaurants, hotel, stores, offices and park.
While Beckham and Mas had a large and vocal contingent of supporters, they were countered by a sea of orange-shirted members of the First Tee Miami youth golf program who arrived early in the morning to create a show of strength in opposition.
“It’s been a long time before I’ve walked into a room and people have not smiled at me,” Beckham said. “It’s not a nice feeling. So, I hope that today you realize what we’re trying to do for the city of Miami. … We want to do the right thing for your children and your children’s children.”
PGA pro Erik Compton, a Miami native, was among those speaking on behalf of preserving the golf course.
“I’ve had the opportunity to play very beautiful golf courses all around the world,” Compton said during his two-minute turn at the podium. “Melreese is a very special place. Soccer can fit in Miami, but not at Melreese. These kids have no where to go if you take away Melreese.
“Soccer doesn’t belong at Melreese. The kids belong there.”
Mas vowed that there would be a place for the First Tee program to continue and expand on the site, though he didn’t elaborate. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said he has pursued the possibility of moving the First Tee program to the nearby Miami Springs Golf Course.
The pleas were impassioned on both sides of the issue.
While emotions centered on soccer vs. golf, some speakers questioned the land development proposal, which has only come to light in recent days and has not been clearly defined. Several referred to it as a “land grab” by developers.
Although this protracted quest for a soccer stadium site is about location, location, location, naturally money has been a major part of the equation, even though Beckham and Mas aren’t seeking taxpayer funding for construction.
Beckham and his partners foresee the Miami Freedom Park complex generating $425 million a year in revenue.
Mas, during a presentation in which he stressed what Miami has meant to him and his Cuban-American family, said the complex would generate $44 million a year in new taxes for the city, Miami-Dade County, school system and state, though that figure is being questioned.
Beckham’s group is seeking a lease of the land for 39 years with two 30-year renewal options at an annual base rent equal to the greater of $3,577,365, or fair market value as determined by two state certified appraisers.
They would also make a $20 million contribution (in equal yearly installments for 30 years) for site development and to create a 58-acre public park on the remainder of the Melreese land.
“I want greatness in my city. I want to be able to dream big,” Mas said. “I want the voters to decide. I want every single voice in the city of Miami to make a decision on this project.”
Mas said the project would create 11,000 jobs over the next three years during the construction and will create 2,300 permanent jobs.
Attorney Tucker Gibbs, representing the group “Don’t Pave Our Parks,” termed the proposal “the largest, most complex development scheme on city property in over 50 years,” and said it needs further vetting and examination before being put to public vote.
Mas, a late-comer to the Beckham group who has given the stadium push a strong local voice, has been touting the plan on social media since releasing images and details last weekend.
On Wednesday, Mas tweeted the results of a survey purported to show about 75 percent of the city’s voters supporting the stadium plan.
But nothing in the 4½-year quest to return the MLS to South Florida has found a path without resistance.
The Melreese site is the fifth that the Beckham group has seriously pursued, including at the Port of Miami and parcels adjacent to AmericanAirlines Arena and Marlins Park.
More than a year ago an agreement was reached for land to build in the middle of Overtown. But that plan has encountered legal challenge, and the Beckham group was never that keen on it anyway.
Since Mas, executive of the infrastructure firm MasTec, and brother Jose joined Beckham following his failed attempt to buy the Miami Marlins, the group has turned attention elsewhere to build the soccer stadium.
So, now their objective is the public golf course just east of the airport.
Opposition began mobilizing soon after Mas began tweeting about it. More than 23,000 have signed a Save Malteese petition online.
Long-time LPGA pro Cristie Kerr, another Miami native, has joined Compton in expressing opposition.
There was a humorous moment when former major league pitcher Orlando Hernandez voiced his opposition through an interpreter. A commissioner asked if he was going to say, “I love you, Miami,” mistaking El Duque for his brother Livan Hernandez, who memorably made the declaration during the celebration of the Marlins’ 1997 World Series championship.
It remains to be determined when as well as where Beckham’s team will take the field. Since the initial announcement in February 2014 that Beckham intended to put an MLS expansion team in Miami, the venture has been characterized by grand media events and the elusive stadium saga.
The franchise was formally awarded by MLS in January at a carnival-like gathering in downtown Miami while confetti rained down and soccer enthusiasts chanted and cheered. The team was targeted to begin play in 2020.
But since then all has been quiet on the Beckham front while the search for yet another site proceeded and this proposal took shape.
There still has been no announcement of a team name or colors.
Mas recently revealed that the likely names being considered are Futbol Club Internacional de Miami (Inter Miami) and Futbol Club Atletico Miami (Atletico Miami), both recognizing the city’s international influences. He said a general manager to run the team will be hired soon.