It’s been almost four years since David Beckham and Major League Soccer sort-of-but-not-quite announced that the onetime English superstar would be bringing an expansion team to Miami, exercising an option in his playing contract with the league.
There was a caveat, however. Things would not be official until Beckham got a stadium deal done.
Since then, he and his ownership group, which includes Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure and several heavy hitters in the entertainment industry like Simon Fuller, have struggled to secure a lot to build a soccer-specific stadium. Several waterfront properties were shot down, most likely because they would impede on the cruise ship industry. And plans to put a stadium beside Marlins Park or on the campus of Florida International University didn’t go anywhere, either.
At length, the destitute Overtown community, close to Downtown Miami, came to the rescue on Tuesday, as questions about whether Beckham would ever get his team – and whether his option for a discounted franchise had a deadline – grew louder. Beckham’s purchase of a nine-acre lot for $9 million was approved 9-4 by the Miami-Dade County commissioners, per the Miami Herald.
All that now stands in the way of Beckham’s stadium and, therefore, his team, is approval from the City of Miami to rezone the former truck depot and, of course, the blessing from MLS. If it all goes through, Beckham and his group are committed to build a venue costing at least $175 million and employing no fewer than 50 people full-time. Construction will require no public money and while the $9 million will be paid over the stretch of a half-decade or so – with interest – this seems like the rare stadium deal that doesn’t lean on taxpayers. Even the lot itself sold at its appraised value of $75 per square foot. The only apparent giveback is $600,000 in debt that would be forgiven in five years to cover contamination cleanup on the lot.
Beckham and his backers, who are likely putting up the bulk of the $25 million MLS expansion fee (about a sixth of the market value for new team spots in the booming league) and the construction costs, deserve praise for going all-private in their funding. They likely didn’t have much choice in the matter, since Miami is still smarting from the handout of some $474 million it gave out to the Marlins, who turned out to be profitable as a team all along despite pleading poverty and demanding a new stadium to make more money.
All the same, this seems like a win for the public. Not all stadiums rejuvenate poor neighborhoods, as they are promised to do. Sometimes that happens on its own and the stadium just happens to be built there at the same time. And sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. But since no real public money is apparently being used, there is no significant risk to approving the venue, since it previously sat unused and was an apparent eyesore.
Naturally, some citizens are nevertheless opposed. Across the canal, in the wealthy Spring Garden neighborhood, there is concern. “I want you to consider me and think of me when I’m not able to sleep at night because of the lights and the sounds from the crowd,” Meredith Vey apparently told the commissioners before the vote. Never mind that soccer isn’t played in the middle of the night, when most people sleep.
And if some MLS fans have grown cynical about Beckham’s long-stalled project in Miami, it’s probably still a win for the league and the sport as a whole. Beckham’s brand remains strong, and if anyone can make that market work – in a way that it hasn’t for a lot of other teams, including an MLS franchise shuttered in Fort Lauderdale 15 years ago – it would be a significant asset.
He isn’t there yet, but Beckham is now just two steps away from becoming a soccer baron. And while his stadium saga has become a running joke in soccer circles, the game in America will be better for it.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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