School, county officials voice support for soccer complex
Written by John Charles Robbins on July 17, 2018
The plan to redevelop Melreese Golf Course into a billion-dollar mixed-use office tech hub anchored by a soccer stadium is supported by county and school board representatives for the promise of new jobs and money to the area.
At a marathon meeting of the Miami City Commission on July 12, the chairman of the Miami-Dade County Commission and a member of the School Board of Miami-Dade County each spoke favorably of the sweeping proposal being pitched by David Beckham’s group.
The two officials were among scores of folks speaking for and against the proposal to lease more than half of the city-owned golf course to Beckham’s group to build Miami Freedom Park and Soccer Village.
More than 8 hours of debate and discussion ended with a deferral to Wednesday of this week. No further public comment was to be allowed, according to notices the city published Monday.
Two proposed resolutions before the commission, if approved, would put the matter to a vote of residents in November, as the city charter requires.
The City of Miami owns the 18-hole course at 1400 NW 37th Ave., but private DeLucca Enterprises runs it.
The golf course of about 131 acres hugs the city’s Grapeland Water Park and is next door to Miami International Airport.
The five-member city commission seemed split, with Commissioner Ken Russell deemed a swing vote.
Mr. Russell on July 12 pressed for promises from David Beckham and partner Jorge Mas with the goal of gaining more financial benefit to the city, fighting for park and greenspace, and making certain the public isn’t stuck with paying even one cent toward what was expected to be costly environmental remediation. The golf course was reportedly built upon fields of contaminated ash.
Potential yes votes were seen from Joe Carollo and Keon Hardemon, while no votes were expected from Manolo Reyes and Wifredo “Willy” Gort at July 12’s session.
Mr. Russell took to Twitter over the weekend to reiterate demands from the developer.
On Sunday, he tweeted: “The requirements I put forward last week: 1)Zero loss of park/green space in @CityofMiami 2)Zero cost to taxpayers for anything including cleanup 3)Living wage of $15 4)Labor Peace agreemt 5)Fairmarket rent + 5% of revenue + 1% of capital transactions 6)@firstteemiami stays.”
The golf course operates a popular program aimed at youngsters called First Tee. A parade of young and old in orange First Tee t-shirts spoke against the plan to redevelop the golf course. Mr. Mas said First Tee would have a place to continue and grow at the Miami Freedom Park.
Among the financial benefits being touted by Beckham’s group, it said last week that the development would result in $44 million in annual tax revenue for city, county, state and the school board.
The group said the development would lead to 11,000 jobs in the next three years, and 2,300 permanent jobs.
Jobs and tax revenue were at the forefront of thoughts from the first speaker July 12, Lubby Navarro, who represents District 7 on the school board.
She spoke positively about the potential tax revenues generated by redeveloping the Melreese site, and said news of the proposed soccer park comes at a critical time for public schools.
“School boards across the state have been cash-strapped this year,” Ms. Navarro said. “It’s been a very difficult year. So upon me reading about this plan I saw that local tax funding will be able to be generated to school boards. Immediately, I said ‘wow, this is not even on our horizon.’”
She said school boards are currently in the thick of budgeting and are trying to deal with a lack of funding.
“So an opportunity for us to get money for the school board is very important. I wanted to express to you, this to me is a great proposal,” she said.
She acknowledged the city commissioners had a tough decision.
“I know you have a difficult decision in front of you. I feel your pain. But I look at it for us in terms of local government to provide education and services to our children. Any opportunity to get funding for us is a great opportunity,” said Ms. Navarro.
She pointed out she was speaking for herself, as one of nine board members.
Ms. Navarro said the project would create much-needed jobs.
“I’ve lived in this community for many years and I know the lack of jobs this community faces every year and the hardships. This project will provide jobs for our community and revenue for our school board. So I just wanted to express to you my support,” she said.
She spoke of the growing popularity of soccer and said it is played in every park throughout the unincorporated area of Kendall.
“I know this project will benefit our entire community,” she said.
The potential financial boost to the city and county’s economy was also noted by Esteban Bovo Jr., chair of the county commission.
Mr. Bovo’s emphasis was on calling for the city commission to allow the city’s voters to decide the fate of the property.
“I’m here in favor of giving the voters of the City of Miami an opportunity,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about this may have been rushed, but in all honesty what you’re debating here today and what you’re deliberating is giving folks an opportunity.
“An opportunity not only to opine but also to hold public hearings, to be able to vet the entire project and go through all the details that have raised so many questions. And I think at the end of the day what makes us effective or try to be effective as we can as leaders is when we get to listen to the public and get their input and their thoughts on this,” Mr. Bovo said.
He said he believes the project has potential for widespread benefits.
“I would tell you that if we want Miami to continue to be that Capital of the Americas that we all aspire to, that beacon where folks come and invest in our community and diversify our economy, these are the kind of projects, quite honestly, that we should be endorsing and supporting,” he said.
Mr. Bovo said he thinks city voters should have the chance to weigh in at the ballot box.
“They should be at the table to discuss these items, and they should have that ample time if it goes before them in the month of November, you’re talking literally four months of debate, public hearings, analysis of the numbers, and I think at the end of the day it makes all of us, on the county commission, and you here in the City of Miami on your commission, I think it will make you better public servants … So I would encourage you to allow the debate to go forward and allow the voters of the city to opine,” Mr. Bovo concluded.
The original draft of proposed legislation involves Miami Freedom Park LLC leasing 73 acres of the site for a 25,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium, technology hub, entertainment center including food and beverage venues, offices, retail, hotel and conference center, and other ancillary commercial development.
The lease is proposed for 39 years, with two 30-year options to renew for a total of 99 years, with an annual base rent equal to the greater of $3,577,365, or fair market value as determined by two state certified appraisers, “in addition to any rent increases and/or additional rents negotiated by the parties.”
The proposed resolution would also authorize creation of a Park Infrastructure Fund by the city to which Miami Freedom Park would contribute $20 million (payable in equal yearly installments for 30 years) to defray the site development and other infrastructure-related costs for a public park of about 58 acres to be developed on adjacent property, currently used for the Melreese Country Club.