After four years and an absurd hopscotch around Dade County in search of a stadium site, David Beckham and his partners are closer than ever to finally bringing a Major League Soccer team to Miami. Commissioners voted 9-4 this afternoon to sell a county-owned parcel of land in Overtown to Beckham's group for $9 million — the final piece of land needed to begin work on a stadium next to the Miami River.
The vote came after a contentious meeting where residents of nearby Spring Garden complained their quality of life would be wrecked by the massive project and concerns from commissioners that the county wasn't getting enough promises from MLS to improve transit or boost school budgets.
In the end, though, the enthusiasm of Overtown's commissioner, Audrey Edmonson, and the backing of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez was enough to push the vital vote through for the English soccer legend and his backers.
"This team has been a willing partner that has worked with the administration and myself through every part of this process," Edmonson told the crowd.
But commissioners heard plenty of blowback before their vote. As they did at a community meeting in Overtown last month, Spring Garden residents howled that the huge stadium would bring noise and crowds to their historic neighborhood. Many brought up the total lack of parking for the facility — which Beckham's lobbyist revealed was actually encouraged by city planners:
Beckham rep Neisen Kasdin said Miami planning staff asked stadium NOT TO BUILD PARKING GARAGES because it "deadens" neighborhood— Doug Hanks (@doug_hanks) June 6, 2017
Naysaying commissioners had their own doubts, though nearly everyone was unanimous in agreeing that the project was miles better than the Marlins Park fiasco. Beckham's group is privately financing the stadium and has spent $19 million buying private land in addition to paying the $9 million fair-market price for the county's Overtown site.
"As far as sports deals go with the county, this isn't so bad," Commissioner Joe Martinez said. "I'll give you an over-under on how many times Marlins Park is mentioned today."
But Martinez, who ultimately voted for the plan, pointed out it's not entirely privately financed. Miami-Dade Water and Sewer kicked in $125,000 to pay for documentary stamps, and the county will front $593,000 to remove hazardous waste from the land.
Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who voted no, said she applauded Beckham's group for encouraging fans to use public transit instead of driving but questioned why MLS didn't make more of a commitment to improve decaying Metrorail and bus facilities in the area.
"I think it's great that soccer fans like to walk," she said. "I think it's great that we're surrounded on this parcel by so many transit access points. But there hasn't been enough conversation about what the league will contribute to those transit stations. Culmer Station is not up to par for accepting thousands of soccer fans."
Levine Cava was joined by Javier Souto, Jean Monestime and — ironically — Bruno Barreiro, the single man most responsible for crafting and passing the dreadful Marlins Park deal.
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The land sale is far from the last hurdle for Beckham's group, though, which only added its latest key investor a few months ago. The group now has a 60-day window to obtain Major League Soccer's approval for the franchise — and Beckham representative Neisen Kasdin indicated they are still looking for more investors and owners in the meantime.
That's a tight crunch, and after four years of blown opportunities and several other attractive cities lining up for teams, there's no longer an iron-clad guarantee that MLS will give Beckham his team.
Either way, Overtown and Spring Garden residents will now be along for the ride with whatever comes next.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Joe Martinez's vote. He voted in favor of the stadium land sale.