David Beckham’s Miami negotiators unveiled an airy, open-roof stadium for Overtown Wednesday night, a retooled design that still sticks with the central premise that the 25,000-seat soccer venue doesn’t need parking facilities.
“We’re going to be encouraging the use of Metromover, Metrorail, water taxis, ride-sharing,” said Spencer Crowley, a lawyer and lobbyist representing Miami Beckham United in its talks with Miami-Dade to buy a parcel needed for its nine-acre stadium site near the Miami River. “We view this as a paradigm shift for the county as to how people get to large events.”
The Beckham group needs an agreement to buy the county land before it can get formal approval from Major League Soccer to bring an expansion franchise to Miami — a quest Beckham began in early 2014, only to be foiled in bids for three other sites before settling on Overtown. The venture stalled last year when Beckham was unable to secure investor backing for a venture expected to cost more than $300 million.
On Wednesday, Beckham representatives returned to the Overtown YWCA for a town hall to pitch residents on the stadium plan, nearly 18 months after a similar event in the same place on the same topic.
“My apologies for bringing you back here again,” said Tim Leiweke, a veteran sports and events executive who is Beckham’s top negotiator. “We have had issues. We have had bumps in the road.”
With an investor on board, L.A. Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly, the Beckham group is ready to buy the county land for $9 million under a no-bid deal using the state’s economic-development laws. As part of the deal, the Beckham group promised to create 50 permanent jobs at the stadium. Half would be required to pay Miami-Dade’s living wage of about $15 an hour.
“This is, frankly, I believe our last opportunity here for Miami to have Major League soccer,” said Carlos Gimenez, mayor of Miami-Dade County.
Miami Beckham United would own its stadium site, and is not pursuing the county subsidies pledged to Miami-Dade’s exiting three professional sports teams. “Every penny spent will be ours,” Leiweke said.
The town hall was demanded by Audrey Edmonson, the Miami-Dade commissioner who represents Overtown. As the resident commissioner, her support is considered a green light for county approval during a vote expected on June 6. She sounded supportive before the overflow crowd, defending the stadium as a good way to bring some added employment to one of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods.
“I heard some groans when it came to 50 jobs,” Edmonson said. “Guaranteeing 50 permanent jobs, that is a lot of jobs when it comes down to a stadium. … Believe me, I had a difficult time getting that out of them.”
The stadium would not open until 2021, and Leiweke said he expects Miami’s approval process for zoning changes and a street closing needed for construction to start would take about a year. He said the team could still play in a temporary venue — such as Hard Rock stadium or nearby Marlins Park — while construction is underway. The terms of the pending Miami-Dade deal allow Beckham to delay purchasing the county land until Miami approves the stadium plans.
Leiweke faced the harshest questions from residents of Spring Garden, a more affluent neighborhood next to Overtown. Homeowners said the lack of garages at the Beckham facility promises to clog their neighborhood with cars and fans seeking a place to park. They argued Beckham wasn’t bringing enough to Overtown to compensate for the disruption.
“A lot of times, stadiums overpromise and underdeliver,” said Carlos Salas, a Spring Garden resident. “I don’t think we should sell out for 50 jobs.”
Among the scores of residents who expressed approval or dismay at the proposed stadium, none got applause as big as Rev. Clayton Harrell, who said he was not opposed to the stadium, but hoped members of the Beckham investor team focused their energy on helping the homeless and churches in the area.
“I say to the stockholders and people that are investing in this to make an investment in the house of God,” he said.
To address parking concerns, Leiweke unveiled a strategy he said would help keep cars away from the stadium area. He said the team plans to arrange for a dinner-cruise boat to deliver fans to the Miami River a few blocks away, and would arrange for shuttle buses from parking garages in Miami. The team plans to secure at least 2,000 spaces a game, he said. The main focus would be on the nearby Metrorail station, with the Beckham group relying on soccer’s tradition of fans “marching” to the game.
John DeLeon, a Spring Garden resident, argued soccer could help Overtown lead the way in embracing public transit.
“It’s going to help redefine who we are a community,” he said. “We’re going to be a pedestrian community.”
The unveiling of the new stadium rendering revealed a design with more air and light than the previous one, which first appeared in the Beckham group’s last Overtown town hall in December 2015. The previous rendering — which Beckham executives insisted did not reflect an actual design plan — showed what looked like a metal mesh canopy and two decks of seats sloping up the sides. The design revealed Wednesday had a canopy that appears much thinner, with bits of the field visible from above. The stadium walls are open to the elements above the seats.
Leiweke said the new design reflects response to complaints from Spring Garden residents at the 2015 meeting that a hulking stadium would choke the area. “Your breeze is back,” he said.