County Supports Lastminute Effort To Land National Soccer Headquarters
By Candice Ventra
Miami-Dade County and the City of Homestead are trying to entice a national soccer group to use the city’s empty sports complex as its training center.
The Chicago-based US Soccer Federation is seeking proposals from cities that can offer a professional training complex. The center would bring an economic impact of about $25 million from job creation and ancillary spending, soccer officials said.
The federation is the governing body for 24 men’s and women’s soccer teams, which includes 12 Major League and 12 National League teams, group officials said.
Local officials think Homestead has a good shot at attracting the soccer group because the sports complex, though designed for baseball, already exists and meets several requirements of the US Soccer Federation. Other cities could need time and money to find land and build a structure.
But, Miami-Dade Commissioner Jimmy Morales said cities such as Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa and Los Angeles already have bids in to host the training center.
"No one in Miami picked up on this," Mr. Morales said. "Wherever this is built, it will become the soccer capital of the U.S."
Morales has asked county officials to help Homestead muster local backing for the bid.
"Can you get a group of people together to act as a civic component for this?"
Miami-Dade County Manager Merrett Stierheim, said he would get support from organizations such as the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Beacon Council, but he wondered if Homestead officials could complete a proposal by the soccer group’s Sept. 30 deadline.
If Homestead officials can submit their bid in time and it is accepted, the city would have to front $10 million to retrofit the complex, according to Alicia Schreiber, Homestead’s assistant city manager.
"Broward is serious," Mr. Stierheim said. "They’ve got their act together and are ready to put their money where their mouth is. Does Homestead have a funding strategy?"
Ms. Schreiber said Homestead was working on a financing plan for retrofitting the stadium. Mr. Stierheim said her response was "not good enough."
"We’ve asked Kimley Horne and Arquitectonica to be consultants" to help Homestead officials complete the application, Ms. Schreiber said.
The consultant’s fee would be $60,000, she said, and Homestead will ask the county to pay $15,000 of that.
"The City of Homestead pays $450,000 to $500,000 a year to maintain it," Ms. Schreiber said of the current facility.
The soccer federation would want six natural and one artificial grass fields with lights and shelters, a central building, locker rooms, training rooms, player lounge, residential hall for 240 people and a 7,000-seat stadium, according to Jim Moorhouse, director of communications for the US Soccer Federation.
Homestead Sports Complex currently has a 6,500-seat baseball stadium with the option to expand to 9,000, according to city documents. There is a baseball practice field with 1,000 bleachers and four natural grass fields.
The complex also has a practice infield, an observation tower and parking for 3,950. Home and visitor clubhouses have a total of 124 lockers and a training clubhouse has 175 more. A one-story dormitory can accommodate 198 persons with bedrooms, kitchens, lounge areas and restrooms.
Mr. Moorhouse said some requirements for the proposed soccer training center are flexible.
"The specifics may change as bids come in," Mr. Moorhouse said. "Climate helps but it’s not a prerequisite for this at all. It comes down to best bid."
Built in 1991 as the spring-training site for the Cleveland Indians, the $22 million, debt-free complex has never had a full-time tenant, according to Ms. Schreiber. The Indians reneged on their contract after Hurricane Andrew tore through South Dade in 1992, even though the city rebuilt the complex in 1993.
Homestead officials have tried unsuccessfully to lure other baseball teams. Contenders have complained that the location and distance from other spring training sites was a drawback.
Mr. Morales last week told the County Commission that he found out in late August about the soccer federation’s search for a training site.
The soccer group now uses a facility owned by the Olympic Training Committee in San Diego for training. In Florida, the organization also has a temporary training site in Sanford that is not being used this year, Mr. Moorhouse said.
City of Miami Commissioner Johnny Winton, who also serves on the Miami Sports & Exhibition Authority which governs city-owned athletic complexes like the arena, said he didn’t know the soccer federation was in the market for a site until told by a reporter.
"It seems like a great thing to me," he said. "It just doesn’t seem like much time to work with."
Bryan Finnie, president of the Empowerment Zone Trust for the county, who is also working on the application for the soccer training site, said the county should at least make the effort.
"I think we should be penalized for not trying," he said, "than for giving up too early."