Overtown Is Skeptical of David Beckham's New Soccer Stadium Plan

Overtown Is Skeptical of David Beckham's New Soccer Stadium Plan
via Beckham United
David Beckham's crew said just about everything right last night. They'd pay for their new stadium entirely with their own money. Minority and locally owned contractors would have first dibs on the construction, and then the team would create at least 50 full-time jobs. They'd offset a lack of parking with new public transit options. It all sounded great.

But in a jam-packed YWCA room without any air conditioning, the skepticism from many Overtown and Spring Garden residents was palpable.

"I don't play soccer, and I'm not a sucker," quipped Renita Holmes, a longtime activist who lives just one block from the stadium site, eliciting loud laughs and applause in the room.

Who can blame the locals for doubting they'll actually benefit from a gigantic new piece of infrastructure plopped into the middle of Miami's historically black neighborhood? Overtown's history is essentially divided in two — before I-95 cleaved it in half in the '50s, when it was a thriving black and Caribbean hot spot, and then after, when it was all but decimated by the construction.

Beckham's group took great pains last night to insist this massive project would do the opposite. Tim Leiweke, Beckham's top negotiator with the city and county, pitched the most detailed plan yet on how the stadium would affect the area. He unveiled a new rendering of an open-air field and ran through the pledges he'd hammered out with Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, including those 50 jobs, at least half of which would pay a living wage.

Leiweke also tried to separate his project from the Jeffrey Loria-size elephant in the room, noting that unlike Marlins Park, his group would foot the whole bill for construction and pay the county $9 million for the last piece of land they needed. "We do now have the resources to go out and build this stadium privately and not ask a penny out of the county or the city," he assured the crowd.

As speakers filed to the podium inside the sweltering conference room, there certainly wasn't universal pushback. Members of the Southern Legion, the pro-MLS fan group, and other longtime soccer backers hyped up the beautiful game and lent support to the Overtown plans. Some neighborhood residents said they looked forward to going to games.

But there was also plenty of doubt. One man from Spring Garden leaned into the group for claiming the stadium's profits would trickle down to residents. "Plopping down a 25,000-seat stadium in the middle of our two neighborhoods is an insult," he said. "The people of Overtown are way too intelligent to think if you allow them to sell them a hot dog and a warm beer, that will satisfy their economic development goals."

Mario Cohen, another Spring Garden resident, echoed that sentiment. "You're gonna put another stadium, with more traffic here, and... the public transit in this community sucks," he said. "Don't sell this land." 

There's no doubt Beckham's effort is a far cry from the Marlins' epic con job, where they blatantly lied to the public about their finances before ramming through a taxpayer-robbing deal without any vote from Miami residents. As Beckham's people pointed out, the land they're building on is contaminated and was previously slated for a massive condo project, which would have led to many of the same concerns about traffic.

But it's also true that study after study has shown stadiums bring little in the way of new economic activity to neighborhoods. (Just take a stroll around Marlins Park if you doubt those findings.)

For those living nearby, where a combination of traffic, construction, and noise is sure to ramp up heavily if the deal gets done, it's easy to understand the skepticism of another stadium project.

"You should use this land to build out soccer fields so we can all play soccer here," Cohen added, "not just a small group of guys making millions."
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink