Beyond the glitz, soccer stadium at seaport an unlikely goal
Written by Michael Lewis on April 2, 2014
We’ve now been treated to the glitz and glitter of a soccer team in search of both tax money and a stadium. The glitz is the stadium drawings, the glitter a team front man famed around the globe.
Elected officials have done their usual sports swoon, augmented by being allowed to actually be in photos with David Beckham, the supplicant himself! (Wait ’til I show the guys and hang a copy in my office!)
If David Samson had been David Beckham, the Marlins would have had a baseball stadium years earlier – and the owner’s hidden suite of rooms might have been even larger.
All that phony Beckham-based hoopla, however, doesn’t mean a soccer owner would behave like the Marlins’ has or that a team would draw as badly. Star-quality ownership plus great soccer demographics should equal a winner in Miami.
Subsidies and public land use, however, are a different ballgame.
It might surprise some that we think a county deal for soccer might be worth pursuing, though with caveats.
Among them is that the deal would develop a moribund area and build area jobs and the economy. Another is that it’s synergistic with the neighborhood, creating other valuable growth. Third is that the county get profitable yields and control the stadium for non-soccer events. Fourth is an adaptive site reuse plan, just in case.
Other yardsticks measure a deal, but these qualify it for talks.
Equally important is PortMiami land the Beckham group covets. That’s a different policy question, one it’s doubtful soccer can answer satisfactorily.
The rule is, port needs come first. Even the most profitable soccer deal for the county on land that should be supporting the area’s second-biggest economic engine, its port, won’t float.
As Bill Johnson yields the port’s helm to Juan Kuryla, the port is busy reclaiming scarce land from other uses, including warehouses and tenants that can get by with less.
The question is whether it’s acting solely to raise income or to handle future needs in operating the world’s busiest cruise port and our foreign trade link to Latin America and the Caribbean.
Miami International Airport’s director just trimmed a very profitable development, saying the airport might need land to grow. Is the seaport in that position too?
We know that the new freight rail link to the port is pivotal for its future and that the Florida East Coast Railway needs on-port loading space to meet its predicted service levels within 12 months.
County hall must determine, minus all the hype, actual freight growth the port might get from huge post-panamax ships for which it has bought massive cranes, is deepening channels and has dug truck tunnels.
The county also must scope out how much cruise lines could grow if they had more ship berths, because PortMiami is maxed out. And it needs to think not just of present lines but whether – horrors! – future competitors might want cruise ship dockage.
In other words, how big could cruise and cargo businesses get and would we have surplus land even if we hit those peaks?
It’s true that a soccer stadium plus commercial complex around it could add jobs and build county revenues. But that could happen in multiple places – the team looked at 30 sites here and has three options if the port plan sinks.
The port, on the other hand, has only one place to grow. Guess needs too low and it’s landlocked.
A stadium is a fine real estate development deal, but we’ve got those deals everywhere and then some.
Many covet the port land – Mr. Johnson wanted it to develop. But its primary role is to build trade and nautical tourism.
Mr. Kuryla can help Mayor Carlos Gimenez and commissioners by assessing how much of that land the port might need, first for direct ship use, then for uses that support the primary uses.
Only after all of those are fully covered could soccer be considered, and even then it must compete with uses for which Mr. Johnson had ticketed it.
If the port doesn’t work out – and, given those criteria, it probably won’t – the team should try beside Marlins Park, its second choice. There it could actually speed rather than impede area gains. Indeed, the Marlins Park contracts deal with soccer nearby.
The county will soon have a soccer deal to evaluate. But first we must know whether the state will kick in money for soccer and where the county will consider a stadium.
Even minus a star-quality owner with whom everyone wants to be photographed, we’d all welcome a soccer team that could succeed. Soccer is a natural. The right county stadium deal is possible.
Stalling an economic engine at PortMiami, however, shouldn’t be the soccer goal.