Miami seeks expert to negotiate with David Beckham team
Miami commissioners have agreed to hire a third party to assist city administrators in their negotiations with the David Beckham group for a long-term lease of city-owned property adjacent to Miami International Airport.
The deal, if approved, would turn the Melreese Golf Course into a sweeping commercial development anchored by a Major League Soccer stadium.
The controversial matter has led some commissioners to put the squeeze on city administrators in an effort to get the best deal and the ability to vote on the final lease before November’s election.
Commissioner Manolo Reyes is up for re-election and says he wants to be able to vote on the proposal, which thus far he has opposed.
On a move by Mr. Reyes, commissioners on March 14 directed the city manager to report on the status of negotiations for the proposed ground lease at the March 28 commission meeting, and to deliver a finished proposed lease for review and approval by the Sept. 12 meeting.
City Manager Emilio González and City Attorney Victoria Mendez prepared a resolution for March 28 for the commissioners to hire Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP as legal consultants, to provide subject matter expertise on negotiations between the city and Miami Freedom Park LLC (the Beckham group).
Mr. González said he worked with the city attorney to find the most appropriate consulting firm that specializes in sports facilities, and they agreed to retain the Hunton firm “as we enter greater negotiations.”
Mr. Reyes immediately questioned the firm’s expertise in large commercial ventures.
He said the issue isn’t really a plan for a soccer stadium. “Let’s tell the public what it really is. It’s building a massive commercial project on Melreese,” said Mr. Reyes. He asked what type of experience the company had negotiating massive real estate developments.
Mr. González responded: “All stadiums are real estate deals.”
Mr. Reyes then cited state statutes and city resolutions that prohibit the city from spending tax dollars on any company that does business with Cuba.
“I think it precludes them,” he said.
Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort agreed it’s not just a stadium proposal, it’s “a completely different deal” with offices, hotels, a shopping center and more.
Commissioner Joe Carollo agreed, saying: “The bulk of what the project is, is commercial in nature… the main revenue to the city would come from a mall, hotel, office space and parking. The very smallest portion of revenue is (from) the stadium.”
Mr. Carollo continued, “I do not feel comfortable bringing in a firm whose expertise is not in major commercial real estate. This doesn’t impress me. It’s not what we need here.”
He finally added, “We have an obligation to put this out to bid,” in reference to hiring the most qualified consultants. Recognizing the tight deadline the commission imposed on the administration, he suggested a quick request for proposals be issued.
Mr. Carollo suggested the request be very specific and emphasize the city wants a firm with experience negotiating major commercial developments, and that those services include advising the city on the best deal and providing a full analysis of what is proposed to be built on the site and the market rate value of those additions.
“We need real numbers,” said Mr. Carollo. He and other commissioners have lately been expressing dissatisfaction with existing city leases which they feel do not bring in the amount of revenue they should.
“I agree with the commissioner,” said Mr. Reyes. “My first concern is that this is not a stadium deal. This is a major commercial development.”
Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP, headquartered in Richmond, VA, established a Miami office in 1999. A representative of the firm said it doesn’t do any business with Cuba.
Mark Arnold, from the firm, said Hunton specializes in stadium developments. He said the firm worked on a large commercial project in New York that included a hockey stadium and significant retail, similar to what is proposed at Miami Freedom Park.
Mr. Arnold said the firm has experience handling deals that have included convention centers, hotels and more. He said it represented local governments in 14 stadium transactions.
Chairman Ken Russell was looking for a deferral of the resolution to hire the Hunton firm.
After advice from Ms. Mendez, commissioners agreed to direct her office to immediately prepare a request for letters of interest from firms nationwide with expertise on major stadium and commercial ventures.
They approved a quick turnaround, with 15 days for companies to submit letters of interest.
Mr. Carollo said he wants each commissioner to have up to three days to review all of the letters, and suggested a special meeting in April to make the hire.
The commission approved this on a unanimous vote. It then voted to withdraw the resolution regarding the Hunton firm. It was noted that the Hunton firm is not prohibited from submitting a letter of interest.
Melreese Golf Course is on about 131 city-owned acres at 1400 NW 37th Ave.
City voters in 2018 approved a proposal authorizing the city to negotiate and execute a 99-year lease with Miami Freedom Park LLC, for about 73 acres, waiving bidding, and converting Melreese to a soccer stadium, at least 1 million square feet office, retail, commercial uses, 750 hotel rooms and more, and a 58-acre public park.