It takes guts to keep developers off city golf course’s turf
Written by Michael Lewis on July 17, 2018
“No guts, no glory” is something ex-soccer star David Beckham understands. Miami commissioners should too when it’s time to preserve the city’s patrimony of greenery.
Mr. Beckham is the front man allied with local executive Jorge Mas to develop a mixed-use project far larger than Brickell City Centre at the city’s only golf course. A soccer team is the bauble dangled before the commission and the public to get the public turf in a no-bid deal that the city never sought.
Because of that colorful bauble and its equally colorful proponents, officials will need the guts to say “no” to a takeover of the public fairways at the Melreese course for a massive private project. And “no” is our only shot, not a pass of the issue to a public vote, or even bargaining to get more money.
No, stop this giveaway now.
Guts are vital because a soccer stadium, which is just a small part of the package, is what the public is being shown to distract us from a real estate play that would be larger than Swire’s Brickell City Centre – at one point the nation’s biggest private construction project – and is just the first step in developing 73 city-owned acres.
Think of this: Brickell City Centre has 500,000 square feet of retail, the 352-room East hotel, 260,000 square feet of offices and parking for 2,600 cars. The Mas project – in every sense – now lists 600,000 square feet of retail, 750 hotel rooms, 400,000 square feet of offices and parking for 3,750 cars. The Brickell project has two condo towers; this one would have a 25,000-seat soccer stadium – plus acres and acres to add more if a contract did not bar it.
This newspaper opposes government aid for stadiums but strongly backs Mr. Beckham’s quest for a 25,000-seat soccer site here. If he and his backers are going to pay for the whole thing, as they have pledged for years, we see it as an asset for the community and a straight business deal for the partners.
We sincerely hope a stadium rises – but not at the cost of the city’s public open land that is also its only golf course.
The Beckham interests own other land, in Overtown. We supported a stadium there as a win for all.
If they don’t want to build in Overtown, they could buy land in the normal course of business, just as Swire carefully acquired about nine city blocks for its Brickell blockbuster. Most likely we’d support any of those choices as a business deal that’s good for all, as we do with Swire.
But using parkland is not the normal course of business anywhere but Miami, where officials are lured to flip almost anything if they can get payments plus more tax revenues. Protecting municipal assets is something Miami has been so bad at that commissioners themselves have criticized their predecessors’ fumbling efforts.
Those fumbles were costly because promoter after developer after sports team has sent in big-league pros to negotiate with government attorneys who are more likely to handle slip-and-fall cases than major deals. The public always loses.
In this case, too, the sketchy deal would shortchange the public. The city, were it in the market to dump one of its most valuable assets, should be getting far more.
But why worry about how bad a deal is when the city shouldn’t offload its prime open space in the first place? Just say “no” and move on, commissioners. Tell the soccer folks you love them, which we all do, but the public land is out of bounds. Just because they are not Jeffrey Loria does not make a bad deal worth doing.
The pivotal commission decision should be not the nature of the deal or when the public should vote, but whether to sell off parks. We don’t think any commissioner has enough guts to start a selloff of the city – at least, we pray they don’t.
Other sites exist in the city for a stadium, but none for another golf course.
As for the argument that a golf course loses money, think about all the public parks and green spaces and tell us which are profitable. Does historic City Hall turn a profit? One reason we pay taxes is to support municipal assets, not unload them.
Even if the commission decides in its wisdom to start peeling off city lands, don’t mirror this faulty deal and just take the first offer – get bids.
As for letting the voters decide, what could they decide? No formal offer sits on the table, just a concept that can change – after all, three weeks ago the plan was 1 million square feet of offices and now it’s 400,000. It’s a shifting target that even the Mas interests haven’t pinned down.
How could the voters know key details like how the community would handle the added flood of traffic beside a rapidly growing international airport or who would pay how many millions to clear the toxic waste that underlies the golf course – especially in a ballot question of 75 words?
Voters should get to weigh in only if commissioners first bless the deal – and commissioners should not approve the green space loss in the first place. The city should be acquiring open public land, not yielding it.
After a public vote that allowed a deal to proceed, no commissioner would ever have the guts to say “no” – because backers would brand it “the will of the voters.”
We know there’s a rush to get this onto the ballot, but for stadiums a rush always prevents analysis – look at the speed that led off the baseball fiasco. A ticking clock is the promoters’ game plan.
In this soccer game of grabbing land, the city’s goal must be to defend what we have, not rush headlong to an election that leads to civic loss for a century or more.
They may love soccer as much as the public does, but commissioners need the guts to drive it off the tee at Melreese.