New Anti-Beckham Stadium Campaign Targets Overtown, Spring Garden

New Anti-Beckham Stadium Campaign Targets Overtown, Spring Garden
courtesy Gustavo Alfonzo

Last week, Miami's futbol faithful were left disappointed again when Major League Soccer owners declined to give David Beckham's group final approval for a new franchise. Although they did give Becks the nod to keep negotiating, there are plenty of looming hurdles: a land deal with the county that isn't quite done, political infighting over policing a new stadium, and a lawsuit by a wealthy heir that could still derail the whole plan.

Now Beckham can add another headache to his long-delayed push for MLS in Miami: A new community group is working to mobilize residents in Overtown and Spring Garden against his stadium, which the English star wants to build near the Miami River in Miami's most historic black neighborhood.

Colorful, glossy flyers urging residents to "Stop the Stadium!" and "Take Action Now" were left on doorsteps around the area late last week, paid for by a new group called the Overtown Spring Garden Community Collective. The group is also organizing a rally against the deal tomorrow where speakers promise to detail a "lack of infrastructure" and "diminished quality of life."

It's not clear who is behind the new push. Bruce Matheson, who filed the lawsuit against Beckham's stadium last month, says he's not funding the campaign — although he supports what the group is doing.

"I'm not paying for anything," Matheson says. "But I will be attending the rally."

courtesy Gustavo Alfonzo
Residents like Gustavo Alfonzo found the fliers at their homes last week, urging them to oppose the stadium. That's not an unpopular sentiment in Overtown — where another major project, the 1960s-era I-95 overpasses, completely destroyed the historic neighborhood — and in nearby Spring Garden, where residents worry traffic and noise will spoil an idyllic riverside area.

Alfonzo, who has lived in Spring Garden for three years, says he actually supports Beckham's push but that he's a lone voice in his area.

"They didn't choose the best spot for a stadium, but it's what's available," says the 33-year-old who works in digital advertising. "Everyone around Spring Garden is against anything that changes the neighborhood at all. There are a couple parks they want to improve, to add some kayak access points, and everyone's against that as well."

Beckham's group landed in Overtown after failing in earlier pushes for other stadium locations from the Port of Miami to downtown to Little Havana. They're closer than ever to finally securing a deal after assembling several privately owned parcels and then getting initial approval from the county last month to buy a $9 million plot of land near the Miami River.

But concerns remain. County Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz threw a wrench in the plan by insisting that county cops and paramedics get exclusive rights to overtime work at the park, a provision that the city — which will also eventually have to sign off on the deal — is likely to fight.

Matheson, meanwhile, sued and argued that the $9 million no-bid deal for county land didn't represent a fair market price. In fact, Matheson — who owns land in Spring Garden — says he would have personally paid far more for the plot near the booming river district. Matheson has already sunk one other major athletic project by suing to stop expansion of the tennis courts used by the Miami Open in Key Biscayne.

The new community group is hoping to seize on those worries along with others, like the lack of parking in the area and the number of local jobs promised by the team to Overtown residents. The group will meet at 7 p.m. tomorrow at St. John's Church on NW Third Avenue.

As for Beckham's backers, they're left in a familiar holding pattern, hoping the soccer icon's team can find a way to finally close the deal and get MLS approval later this fall.

Update 3:30 p.m.: Amanda Quirke Hand, an attorney who lives in Spring Garden, says the new anti-stadium group is a grassroots organization that recently came together. The idea, she says, is to counter the perception that Overtown and Spring Garden are totally separate with little shared interest in the stadium or other issues.

"We need to work together because we're equally frustrated with this perception that the stadium is a done deal and that we don't have a voice any more," Hand says. "It's not true."

She says the group will try to mount protests at county and city hall meetings and that she believes Matheson's lawsuit will force a new round of bargaining for the county's land.

"We don't believe we're done at the county commission," she says. "We think they'll have to go back to make a competitive bid thanks to the lawsuit."
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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