STEVE BRENNER IN MIAMI
It’s approaching four years – 1,454 days to be exact – since David Beckham flashed that knowing smile and announced his intentions to bring Major League Soccer to Miami.
What has transpired since, however, has been a severe kick in the Golden Balls.
Beckham is poised to announce here in the “Magic City” on Monday that he’s finally ticked all the boxes to become the owner of MLS’s 25th franchise.
Choked by red tape and the difficulty of navigating the Miami minefield of politicking, there have been too many false dawns to mention since the idea was first mooted on 5 February, 2014.
Dreams of a swanky waterfront arena sunk without trace long ago, while the local government, stung by the backlash following the building of the Marlins Park baseball stadium – a detested, poorly attended white elephant that eventually cost the taxpayers in excess of $250m [£176.4m] – have been giving superstars and their swanky stadia plans short-shrift.
Beckham must be applauded for his tenacity of seeing through his privately funded project, albeit handed to him at a knockdown $25 million as part of the deal written into his contract after signing for the LA Galaxy in 2007.
Though as excitement abounds (fan groups have been long-established; impressive for a team with no name or players), problems remain.
Beckham’s dream will move a step closer towards reality as he gets the green light to form the 25th MLS side (Getty)
The proposed site for a 25,000-seat stadium in Overtown, a tragically downtrodden area of downtown Miami, continues to fuel frustration and anger among residents who would rather have affordable housing for those living on the breadline, as well as vital necessities such as a new grocery store.
Funnily enough, a shiny new stadium isn’t on their wishlist.
A raft of new jobs wouldn’t go amiss either, although the Miami Beckham United [MBU] ownership group (MBU) have only promised around 50 positions, thus far.
Most locals have vehemently opposed the deal, so following the agreement to sell the remaining plot last year, Bruce Matheson, a wealthy local landowner and activist, took legal action.
Matheson accused Dade County of operating a closed bidding process for the remaining plot of land (a $19m plot was bought in 2016, although only five per cent was made as a deposit), in which it allowed no one but MBU to participate.
Furthermore, it was pointed out that MBU were bidding for the County-owned land using an appraisal which was 18 months old – standard practice is to reappraise every year.
Naturally, in that time, the value had increased considerably, yet wasn’t reflected in the sale price of $9m, which has yet to be paid in full with MBU thus far having made an initial down payment of $450,000.
The Overtown regions of MIami has been targeted as a location for the new stadium (Getty)
A source close to the talks told The Independent: “During the first year, a piece of property across the street sold for twice the amount for which it was appraised.
“The cost was $70 per square foot, but it was sold for $140 [per square-foot]. So, when Beckham comes along, the County sells it for $69 per square-foot, plus they gave them a $600,000 reduction because the land is polluted, which will require extra work.
“The County didn’t do a good job of standing up and getting a good deal for the taxpayer. It’s wrong.”
Matheson’s lawsuit was rejected, although the tenacious millionaire is appealing. The result is expected in June.
Those close to Beckham insist the ownership group which, much to the pleasure of MLS, has been boosted by the arrival of Jorge and Jose Mas, local construction brothers and magnates, whose contacts can help navigate any political nightmares, are unperturbed.
They remain focussed on Overtown, despite the problems.
“We’re excited about creating a world-class fan experience at a purpose-built football stadium on our current site,” said Jorge Mas.
That excitement, however, isn’t shared by everyone. There will be further protests if the wheels are set in motion on Monday.
The natives – mothers worried about their children sleeping on a school night while 25,000 fans enjoy a football match or pop concert to those struggling to make ends meet – are restless.
The Miami Marlins have been a disappointing failure for the area (Getty)
Failed attempts to help fill the depressing atmosphere with excitement at Marlins Park by inserting a soccer team into the mix – either in the stadium itself or on the land next door – have punctured Beckham’s plans over the past four years.
MLS commissioner Don Garber wants a soccer-specific stadium, while owners of nearby apartment blocks and schools demanded astronomical prices – one owner wanted $30m for a plot which was worth only $250,000 – killed those hopes.
It has to be centrally located, too. Miami is a difficult city to navigate, but relative proximity to glitzy South Beach is key. The Miami Fusion, the last attempt to stage MLS in South Florida, were based in Fort Lauderdale, a situation which led to their predictable demise in 2001.
Yet, with New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter now leading the Marlins and under pressure to find someone to produce the extra $200m needed by his ownership group to ensure his new $1.2bn toy will become a viable purchase, a collusion between these two sporting superstars ,who have previously exuded their respect for each other ,makes sense on paper.
Having the Mas brothers on-board makes it seem even more feasible.
“If they are smart, Beckham, his people, and Jeter will talk,” admitted the source with inside knowledge of the deals available. “That would make everyone happy.”
Derek Jeter and David Beckham could well combine their two teams at the new stadium (Getty)
There’s no doubt that MLS in Miami with Beckham digging deep into his contacts to make the pitch sparkle would be tremendously exciting. It’s not hard to imagine Cristiano Ronaldo soaking up some South Beach sun after training as the twilight of his career dawns. Lionel Messi, too.
This is a city known for the fickleness of its sporting fans but Beckham’s razzmatazz would sit nicely.
Commissioner Garber hasn’t given up because he knows the marketing opportunities are endless and lucrative. Make no mistake – Monday marks a new beginning, yet the road ahead remains littered with potholes.