County Hopes Soccer Teams Kick Tires
By Scott Blake
Miami-Dade officials are cautiously proceeding with a plan to create a soccer complex on part of what was a municipal landfill in West Dade.
The proposal comes amid two developments that could give Greater Miami a more prominent place on the world soccer map: The Miami Dolphins’ announcement in May that they’ll host an international soccer tournament this summer at Sun Life Stadium, and a visit this month by celebrity soccer star David Beckham in his search for a home for a new professional soccer franchise.
Meanwhile, county staffers are "putting out feelers" for soccer organizations that might want to partner with the county in developing and using a soccer complex, said County Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz, who is among those spearheading the plan and who was present during Mr. Beckham’s tour of Greater Miami.
"The parks department is drafting an expression of interest and we’re going to see who responds and what their interest is," Mr. Diaz told Miami Today this week. "It could be a team like Barcelona or Real Madrid to come in and put in a training facility or an academy."
Before requesting proposals, he added, "we want to make sure there is interest there."
The complex would be at a 47-acre area of an old landfill site at 9000 NW 58th St. — a location Commissioner Diaz said was known as "Mount Trashmore."
Mr. Diaz didn’t say whether the newly retired Mr. Beckham — who visited Sun Life Stadium and Florida International University’s stadium — might be interested in the landfill site, but added he is currently "not tied into it."
Mr. Beckham "is looking for the best place with the best deal" for a Major League Soccer team, the commissioner said. If he was to locate a team in Miami, "they could use [the site] as a practice facility — maybe."
Mr. Diaz indicated that the process is open to any soccer-related organization serious about participating, and that details would be developed depending on what ideas the responders bring to the negotiating table.
The county hopes to issue invitations in January for private parties to start negotiating a deal, according to Mr. Diaz, former chairman of the county’s sports commission and the prime sponsor of a resolution approved by commissioners last year to test interest in the idea.
"For years," Mr. Diaz said, "we’ve been looking for a way to create more soccer in Miami."
As currently envisioned, here’s how the commissioner described the concept for the West Dade site: a small soccer stadium, perhaps with additional fields, a locker room and showers, and maybe a dormitory-type building.
Mr. Diaz estimated the "ballpark" cost of the project at $50 million. The idea, he said, would be to minimize the county’s expense — even to the point of just giving away the land to a private partner and letting them handle the development costs and "they could run it."
The concept, he explained, also would be to have the facility open to the public on a limited basis. A Major League Soccer team "could use it on a seasonal basis," he added, "and at other times local entities could use it or the fields next to it."
In the end, however, the details probably will come down to whatever a private partner has in mind. "We’ll see what they want to do," Mr. Diaz said.
Referring to any cost to taxpayers, he added: "We can’t keep going to the citizens here to find solutions… I’m not saying the county is going to pay for anything."
According to a report last year by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the 58th Street site includes an area that operated as a municipal landfill from 1952 to 1982. The landfill was declared a Superfund environmental cleanup site, the report states, and "creative stormwater management and wetland restoration regulations" were used to remediate and close the landfill, and part of the site has since been transformed into a plant and wildlife habitat.
Mr. Diaz said no environmental cleanup would be needed for the proposed
Meanwhile, Greater Miami may be poised to reinvigorate its big-league soccer scene. The NFL’s Dolphins announced last month that Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens is slated to host the Guinness International Champions Cup in August. The schedule reportedly will involve a series of games among eight teams from England, Italy, Spain and the US.
Mr. Diaz, meanwhile, has been replaced as chair of the sports commission by Commissioner Lynda Bell. However, he indicated that Ms. Bell is in agreement with him on the landfill plan.
"I’m no longer chair of the sports commission, but this is a passion for me," he said, adding about Ms. Bell: "I’m supporting Lynda on it because she’s the new chair…. I think we both want the best for our county."To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e-MIAMI TODAY, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.