Next week, the Miami City Commission is scheduled to vote on a 99-year, no-bid lease of the publicly owned Melreese Golf Course property to Inter Miami CF co-owner David Beckham and his partners Jorge and Jose Mas to create Miami Freedom Park and a Major League Soccer stadium. The vote on the controversial deal has been delayed four times since February, with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez citing the absence of City Attorney Victoria Méndez as the cause of the most recent delay, though commissioners have suggested that the postponements had more to do with a lack of locked-in votes.
Ahead of next Thursday's vote, documentarian and activist Billy Corben released a mini-documentary on social media slamming the Melreese deal and urging residents to call their elected officials and petition them to vote against it. The star narrator of the two-minute mini-doc? One of the main players behind Miami's other sports stadium boondoggle: former Miami Marlins president David Samson, whom Corben calls the "Hannibal Lecter" to Mas' "Buffalo Bill."
"The Melreese giveaway is so bad it would make the Marlins stadium deal look good — take it from me," a smiling Samson says into a microphone. "I thought I'd be the final guy who fucked you. It turns out I'm not."
The terms of the transaction as they stand now have been criticized for years because the deal is considered far too sweet for the buyers and not good enough for taxpayers, with Beckham and company set to pay only either 5 percent of revenues from the project after it's built, or about $3.5 million in rent a year, whichever is higher. Outside legal counsel hired by the city also outlined 28 major unresolved issues with the draft deal in February, including no penalty for late rent payments and outdated rental appraisals from 2018.
The @CityofMiami is about to get f*cked on the biggest real estate deal in Miami history. @InterMiamiCF's stadium scheme is worse than the @Marlins Park boondoggle. Take it from THE EXPERT in this new mini-doc: tell city commissioners “Don't #BendOverForBeckham!” #BecauseMiami pic.twitter.com/n5QuHaQKMm— Billy Corben (@BillyCorben) April 19, 2022
The video, which garnered more than 325,000 views on Twitter in just 24 hours, closes with headshots of Miami's five city commissioners and a phone number to call to tell them not to "bend over for Beckham."
Interestingly, that phone number doesn't direct to all five commissioners, it goes to just one: Ken Russell of District 2.
When asked by New Times why Russell's office number was the only one included, Corben says Russell is the swing vote on Miami Freedom Park. The deal requires the approval of four out of the city's five commissioners, and Manolo Reyes has promised to vote against it, while Joe Carollo, Alex Diaz de la Portilla, and Christine King have signaled support.
Russell is campaigning for a seat in the U.S. Senate. In Corben's estimation, a yes vote for the current terms of the transaction will be the death knell for his political career.
"If he votes for Melreese, he will never achieve higher office. Melreese will be the albatross that Marlins Park was for every single politician who voted for it," Corben warns.
Corben says there's a precedent, and points to former Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who was booted out of office by 88 percent of voters in 2011 following his vote in favor of the Marlins Park baseball stadium deal, which cost the county (and taxpayers) more than $500 million.
A representative from Russell's office told New Times on Wednesday that they are forwarding all calls about the Melreese deal to the office of City Manager Art Noriega.
But the warning doesn't just go out to Russell, Corben emphasizes. Should Reyes change his mind, the documentarian says, he has plans for a second mini-doc, noting the commissioner's purported mayoral aspirations.
"If he flip-flops on this, I think it would end his chances of ever being mayor," Corben says. "You could imagine the kind of doc we'd do, stringing together all the instances of him saying he's against the deal."
Corben, who is set to appear on local news channels throughout this week alongside Samson, says he's glad the Melreese video has garnered national and international attention because it increases the chances Miami will not repeat the same mistakes it made when Samson negotiated a sweetheart deal with Marlins Park.
"This is death by a thousand cuts. We as residents are paying by allowing them to have the largest single piece of public property — prime real estate — almost for free," Corben says. "I'm not trying to save a golf course. The deal is what I have a problem with."