By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON DC (Jul 6, 2018) US Soccer Players - It’s understandable if you’re a little behind on Major League Soccer’s Miami project, led by David Beckham. The four-year lag between Beckham making the announcement of his intention to bring the league back to South Florida and the official announcement that Miami will be an MLS expansion city at some point in the near, but not-yet-determined future, was long and disorienting. Even now, the planned team still doesn’t have a name, a logo, or colors, despite the ample time Beckham had to decide on those crucial elements.
For the last portion of the four-year gap, Beckham’s group worked diligently to refine a stadium plan in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami. Though the plot was small, the location fit the league’s preference for urban core venues. Beckham and his team claimed proximity to the Miami River would allow for fans to arrive via water taxi and that a Metrorail stop three blocks away would help mitigate the problem of limited parking.
Despite a lawsuit filed by a wealthy local citizen challenging the land sale process, all indications pointed to the deal getting done and a stadium going up in Overtown. Legitimate concerns by the residents of the neighborhood did not appear to dissuade the city or Beckham’s group from the location.
But Jorge Mas did. Mas and his brother Jose joined the ownership group as the lead investors late in 2017, at a time when Beckham needed big, local money to push the expansion bid past the finish line. Immediately, Jorge began to talk publicly about other possible stadium locations and reports circulated in Miami that he was making his way around town talking to civic leaders about alternatives.
One of those alternatives is Melreese Country Club, the only city-run golf facility in Miami. Melreese sits just east of Miami International Airport, far from downtown but accessible via two major arteries. It’s not the downtown stadium location MLS typically demands, though it does have the advantage of being much larger than the Overtown site.
Beckham and the Mas brothers will present to the Miami City Commission on July 12. They’ll propose that Miami voters decide on a no-bid deal for the MLS team come the November elections. The plan calls for a 28,000-seat soccer stadium, retail space, and a public park that the team would fund on 73 acres. The project aligns with Mas’s vision of building “the most technologically advanced, futuristic stadium in the country."
The plan as currently constructed indicates that the group would pay something close to fair market value for the land and property taxes once it changes hands. The additional funds for the park suggest Beckham and his partners don’t want to leave the community wanting when the golf course makes way for pro soccer.
We don’t yet know what the stadium, or any of the other plans for the Melreese site, would like. The Mas brothers showed their plans to Miami city commissioners in recent weeks ahead of the vote, but haven’t left renderings behind for the City to make public. In what might be a first in American soccer history, an expansion group knows exactly what it wants to build but isn’t goosing public opinion with fancy images. Not yet, at least.
With the commission vote pending on relocating the stadium site, there should no longer be any illusion about who is running the show for Miami’s return to MLS. Beckham remains the face of the team, but it’s Jorge Mas that is driving the direction of the club. From the moment he signed on as an owner, Mas began reshaping what MLS will be South Florida.
As far as we know, MLS itself is fine with this arrangement. With the expansion bid granted by public proclamation, it’s unlikely the League would strip Beckham’s group of the team. Either there is no violation of the agreement between league and ownership group on the stadium site change, or the weight of the Mas money is enough to convince MLS that a stadium in the urban core is not necessary for the new team to be successful.
This is the changing face of MLS expansion, even as we acknowledge that the league is more than happy to forgive certain requirements depending on the circumstance. Jorge and Jose Mas are the kind of ultra-enthusiastic, deep-pocketed owners MLS covets. Jorge Mas shares a lot in common with Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank. Both men have enough money that spending “big” in MLS terms won’t make a dent in their personal fortunes. Though Blank is also an NFL owner and has other sports concerns in Atlanta, both Blank and Mas see soccer as a vehicle for achieving other goals in their respective hometowns.
No stadium plan is without opposition. The Melreese project is no exception. A petition to save the golf course has collected more than 10,000 signatures and several high profile Miami natives have expressed their desire to keep things as they are.
The Mas brothers tend to get their way in Miami. Momentum appears to be on their side, even with so much of the plan remaining hidden from view. The long quest to lock down a site for Miami’s MLS stadium could finally be over in November when voters decide on selling Melreese to Beckham’s group. Maybe by then, the team will have an identity, something for potential fans to latch onto while boosting the cause of the stadium plan.
Things move slower down in South Florida, at least when it comes to putting together an MLS expansion team. It took four years for the bid to get a green light from the league. The ownership group of a team with no actual expense shifted more than once before added big pieces just in the last seven months. A stadium land acquisition process, complete with renderings of the proposed finished building, came and went.
A week from Friday, the Miami City Commission will vote on allowing the city’s voters to decide whether to sell Melreese in a no-bid deal to Beckham and his partners. That vote won’t happen until November, dragging things out another five months.
When it comes to Miami, Beckham, and MLS, that seems just about right. What’s another couple of months when we’ve been waiting for years?
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Graphic courtesy of MLS Communications