Many Miami residents are, rightfully, skeptical about Beckham's latest proposal in his never-ending, five-year quest to build a professional soccer stadium in Florida. After abandoning four other properties, Beckham has partnered with rich heir and Miami native Jorge Mas in an attempt to build a huge, $1 billion stadium and park complex over the Melreese Country Club, a public golf course that, despite being covered in grass, is a gigantic environmental hazard.
Is the city going to let Beckham re-pave the public land? Maybe! The city commission on Thursday pushed back a vote that would place approval for a portion of the project on next November's voting ballot. So, in the few days until Wednesday's new vote, we've still got a few big questions about the project:
1. How much is it going to cost to get rid of all the toxic soil?
A New Times review of more than a decade of tests at Melreese by the county's Department of Environmental Resources Management and interviews with DERM officials as well as environmentalists make it clear that any developer building on the golf course would have to undertake a massive cleanup that could add millions in costs and lengthy delays.
As Beckham's team prepares to pitch city commissioners tomorrow on the plan to turn the course into an immense stadium and retail complex, activists say politicians need to work overtime to ensure that taxpayers aren't left holding the toxic waste bill.
"The cost to clean this up is going to be astronomical," says David Villano, a journalist and activist who has written extensively for New Times about the toxic incinerator ash under Miami parks. "Before they put this decision to voters, and before the city commission considers leasing that property, the conversation about incinerator ash needs to be front and center. This is a toxic landfill."
Neither Beckham's ownership group nor Miami Mayor Francis Suarez immediately responded to questions from New Times about whether there's been any discussion of the toxic waste or who would bear the cost of cleaning it up.
2. How much money is this thing going to make, really?
For the last 24 hours, Miami officials have been furiously pushing the latest pitch from David Beckham and financier Jorge Mas for a new soccer stadium at Melreese Country Club, largely by insisting the deal would pour millions into city coffers. City Manager Emilio Gonzalez repeatedly estimated that $44 million per year in new taxes could result, prompting reporters to ask: Where the hell are those numbers coming from?
The city has now released a spreadsheet detailing exactly how much money Mas and Becks are promising from their Major League Soccer stadium built on public land. And, in news that should surprise no one who has ever followed a stadium push, the economic figures are almost certainly nonsense.
Nearly half of Gonzalez's tax promise — a full $21.2 million of that $44 million annual tax projection — is supposed to come via sales tax at the complex, which would include a hotel, office space, public park, golf-entertainment facility, and 600,000 square feet of new retail space in addition to the stadium.
That retail space is key: Of that $21 million, $14.1 million is projected from those retail slots. But here's the thing: The Mas/Beckham group currently has no actual vendors signed up to fill that space. So they're just guessing that businesses will fill those empty storefronts and feed $14 million in tax revenue per year — no small chunk of change — back to the city. A full quarter of the entire projected economic benefit for the project comes from these hypothetical businesses.
3. Will the city actually get a fair cut of the stadium profits?
Also, as Al Crespo noted this morning, expect plenty of pushback at the idea of a private company getting city land to run their business on with a no-bid deal. If the Mas plan comes to fruition, those hundreds of thousands of square feet of office and retail space could be a gigantic cash cow for the developers — all on taxpayer-owned land.4. Is Jorge Mas a liar?
.@Jorge__Mas just told a great story about how he rehabbed the Freedom Tower and gave it to Miami Dade College. Except, he didn't. He sold it to Terra Group in 2005— David Smiley (@NewsbySmiley) July 12, 2018
5. Will Commissioner Keon Hardemon's family ties impact his vote?
Miami's political ecosystem has long had a problem with family members getting paid to lobby other, elected family members. Last night's hours-long sideshow at the Miami City Commission over David Beckham's latest soccer plan was just another testament to how it's basically taken for granted that developers are going to pay patronage fees to the lawmakers' relatives on huge projects.
Before the meeting, Beckham's MLS group hired Barbara Hardemon, Commissioner Keon Hardemon's aunt, as a lobbyist on the project. Commissioners deferred a vote until next week, when Hardemon may well be the deciding vote on the $1 billion proposal to build a private soccer stadium on publicly owned land. At the same time, his aunt is getting paid to convince the commissioner and his colleagues to vote for the deal. Keon Hardemon is not recusing himself from the July 18 vote.
This happens all the time in Miami City Hall. Lobbying records show Barbara Hardemon is also working for the Ultra Music Festival and the Munilla Construction Management building firm, among other groups — familial connections like this are either ignored or buried in paragraph 33 of many news stories about city deals.
There's a reason Beckham has partnered with Jorge Mas, the progeny of one of the rich Miami families that pioneered the city's clubby and incestuous style of politics. For the last few months, outsiders have praised Beckham for partnering with Mas, since, the prevailing wisdom goes, Mas is a seasoned operator who knows how to succeed at city hall. In Miami, that basically just translates into Mas knowing how to play the area's small handful of dynastic political families against one another.