David Beckham was celebrating in South Florida on Tuesday after his dream of building a team in Major League Soccer took a notable step forward.
The former England captain’s push to bring a franchise to Miami has been hamstrung for close to five years with a suitable venue for a new stadium extremely difficult to find.
But voters in Miami on Tuesday came out in favour of a change in regulations that will allow his ownership group — Miami Freedom Park Group LLC — to negotiate a 99-year lease for the latest target: city-owned land at the Melreese Country Club, the city’s only municipal golf course, near Miami airport.
The measure voted on Tuesday, which allows for a no-bid process in negotiations, had a 60 per cent lead with 88 per cent of precincts reporting.
The 73-acre site is the fifth location put forward by Beckham, whose investment group consists of Jorge Mas and his brother Jose, owners of local infrastructure company MasTec, as well as Sprint chairman Marcelo Claure and SoftBank chief executive Masayoshi Son.
The saga has stretched on since February 2014, when Beckham first announced his intentions to own a franchise.
There’s much more work to do, yet the 43-year-old Londoner was delighted to have cleared the latest hurdle in what has been a torturous process so far.
“I need to say a big thanks to the fans who have stuck by us,” the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy star told AFP after speaking emotionally in front of an excitable crowd in Coral Gables, many of whom were decked out in Inter Miami FC colours.
“Today is an exciting day,” Beckham said. “We have had a dream of bringing a team to this great city. We want to create a legacy, something our children will aspire to.
“But we also want to win. I am not coming here just to have a pretty team. Winning championships are important to me.”
The next step, however, is far from straightforward.
Beckham’s group must now earn approval from four of the five city commissioners. Two of them — Manolo Reyes, a staunch critic of the plans, and Willy Gort, whose district includes Melreese — opposed the referendum earlier this year.
Furthermore, with the Melreese site built on a toxic waste dump which could cost upwards of $35 million to clean up, doubters have suggested the plans will encounter many more roadblocks before building permits are granted, something which must happen by November 2019 according to the previously agreed MLS expansion agreement.
Critics fear the clean-up costs could spiral and leave the taxpayers footing the bill — a daunting prospect after the uproar caused after baseball’s Miami Marlins Stadium fiasco left locals with a tab which has almost reached $3 billion.
Beckham’s lavish $1 billion, privately financed project will include a stadium complex as well as a huge shopping mall, a 750 room hotel, office space and a 58-acre public park.
Locals were encouraged to vote ‘yes’ to ensure jobs and other benefits for Miami including $20 million to help reinvigorate other public parks in the area.
MLS stress the team will begin playing in 2020 although it will have to be at a temporary venue, potentially at the Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins, or the Marlins baseball stadium.
“We will look at all options,” Jorge Mas said.