Yesterday, David Beckham's team of investors and real estate advisers unveiled an ambitious plan to build a soccer stadium atop what is now a boat slip on Biscayne Bay. "We want to bring the world's greatest game to the world's greatest city," said Beckham's Bolivian billionaire business partner, Marcelo Claure.
The new proposal replaces a politically unpopular plan for a stadium at PortMiami, but it still faces plenty of opposition. Some are suspicious of any stadium deal, so badly were they burned by the Miami Marlins boondoggle. Others claim Beckham's blueprints are bad for Biscayne Bay.
Whatever your angle, here are ten things you need to know about Beckham's bay-front stadium proposal.
1. Beckham's Stadium Will Transform the Waterfront
The one thing that everyone can agree on is that, if approved, Beckham's stadium will radically transform the downtown waterfront. Although sketches suggest that the stadium itself will be much lower -- and lower key -- than it would have been at PortMiami, putting it just north of American Airlines Arena will require some serious reshuffling. First, it will require the filling of the FEC boat slip next to American Airlines Arena. John Alschuler, Beckham's real estate advisor, says the group is prepared to pump $20-30 million into filling the boat slip and other infrastructure. That's on top of the actual stadium, which could cost more than $200 million.
2. It Will Add Parkland
Beckham's soccer stadium can't completely fit where the boat slip is, so it will also have to sit atop part of what is now Museum Park. But Alschuler and Claure were at pains to point out that their plan will actually increase the amount of parkland by 4.3 acres, or around 23 percent. That's because land will be added between the stadium and the water, as well as in front of American Airlines Arena.
"We've made it 20 percent bigger and 100 percent better," Alschuler said of the park. "The orientation of the park now runs along your greatest resource, which is Biscayne Bay." He said that a $150 million plan to create a long, uninterrupted bay front park back in 1997 had been allowed to fizzle into a mere $10 million landscaping project today. "We've seen a history of diminishing resources in this park," he said. Beckham's stadium would put some ambition back into park.
3. But It Eliminate Part of Biscayne Bay
If Beckham gets his way, the FEC boat slip will be gone. Whether we should care or not is up for debate. Alschuler called the boat slip water "brackish" and said there was "nothing natural about the shore" or sea bottom. But Stuart Sorg, a retired Navy SEAL and chairman of the City's Waterfront Advisory Board, says filling in the boat slip would be a mistake. "It's a beautiful piece of land that should remain the same way it is," he says. "Open land is so important. We try to save land for the people, not just to cover it up and put something on it, let alone a stadium that will be empty most of the time.
His worries are echoed by Laura Reynolds, executive director of the Tropical Audubon Society. In a statement distributed at the press conference, she questioned whether the boat slip could even be legally filled in. "We contend that the people of Florida, Miami-Dade County, and the Florida Legislature intended for Biscayne Bay to be held in the public trust to enjoy water dependent activities for ours and future generations," she said. "We contend that Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves is Miami's great urban park."
4. You Won't Have to Pay for It
Both Beckham and Claure have made it clear that they aren't asking for any city or county funds to build the stadium (Beckham & Co. did successfully lobby lawmakers in Tallahassee for a lucrative state tax break, but that doesn't have much of a direct impact on locals). Unlike Jeffrey Loria, whose Marlins stadium in Little Havana could ultimately cost taxpayers around $2 billion, Beckham and his partners will pay roughly $250 million out of their own pockets to fill the boat slip and build the MLS stadium. They will then own the stadium, which will sit upon public land.
"Not a dime of public money will go towards creating almost nine acres of new public parkland," Alschuler said. "This will be 100 percent paid for by private dollars."
5. But It Will Cost Us
Beckham's plan does have some indirect costs for taxpayers, however. The City of Miami spent $4 million on its own park plan, which would have to be radically redone to accommodate the stadium. The city also recently spent $12 million on upgrading the boat slip. Those sunk costs would effectively be squandered when the boat slip is filled with rubble. "It's our hope that people will understand that a dramatic improvement [in the park] is a fair value," Alschuler said.
6. The Stadium Has Other Benefits
Because of the boat slip wrinkle, Beckham's bay-front stadium is bold. But it isn't nearly as big as what he had proposed at PortMiami. There are no hotels, for instance, included in the new design. Yet, Alschuler stressed that the stadium would be a serious boost to both Museum Park and the downtown economy.
"This is what has evolved" currently in the park, he said. "There is no shade. There are no children's facilities. There are no places for people to gather. There is no place to have an ice cream with your child. There is no place to have a glass of wine and enjoy the view. It is a skeleton park. Not a fully fleshed out, robust park."
In contrast, Alschuler said that stadium would fit as seamlessly as possible into the park, and that ground-level cafes and restaurants would be accessible on days when there are no soccer games. Meanwhile, the side of the stadium will be used for wallcasts -- perhaps of World Cup games -- as with the New World Symphony building in Miami Beach. "We want to be good neighbors," he said. "We will be good neighbors."
7. But Parking Will Be an Issue
Alschuler conceded that those attending games at the stadium would have to "utilize the parking that is already here" in downtown. As one newscaster pointed out, half of downtown's 20,000 parking spots will soon give way to new development projects. But Alschuler said that by scheduling games on Saturday afternoons and Wednesday evenings, he hoped to avoid overlap with Heat games while luring visitors to downtown when they wouldn't otherwise be there.
Asked whether Miami's public transportation system was up to the task of delivering fans to the stadium, Claure said a downtown stadium was better off than elsewhere. "Downtown is the only location in Miami where you can arrive using public transportation," he said. He also pointed out that a downtown stadium was a condition of Major League Soccer's decision to award Miami a team.
8. "The U" Will Not Play Here
Beckham and company had floated the idea of hosting University of Miami football games at the stadium, but a bay-front location makes that almost impossible. The low-rise stadium (at around 90 feet, 60 feet shorter than American Airlines Arena) will only be able to hold around 20,000 fans. That's less than half The U's average attendance last year in Sun Life Stadium.
9. Much Remains Up in the Air
In two weeks, Beckham has gone from fighting for a spot at the port to totally revamping downtown's waterfront. His team was keen to declare they had only had 12 days to come up with the sketches on display. One angle that was absent was the view of the stadium from Biscayne Boulevard, a major source of concern because it will cut off the view of the water. Sketches of the stadium itself aren't available yet either.
Miamians can expect more detailed stadium sketches in the months to come. Also up in the air is a land swap deal between the city and the county required before the boat slip can be filled in. That would require city commissioners to sign off on the plan. It's too early to tell if they will support the stadium, or turn against it, as county commissioners did.
10. You Will Get to Vote on It
But the biggest obstacle to Beckham's bay-front stadium is a public vote. Beckham and his advisors have long sought to distance themselves from the Marlins' stadium -- which was never put to a public vote and became so toxic that county mayor Carlos Alvarez and county commissioner Natacha Seijas were both recalled -- by promising a referendum.
"I've always said that our team will be the people's club -- another downtown amenity that makes the entire Miami-Dade community proud," Beckham said in a press release.
The issue is expected to be on the November 4 ballot. Miami Beckham United is up against lingering stadium suspicions. But Claure said the team was ready to release its secret weapon: a David Beckham charm offensive. "You'll see David as a very active presence" in the campaign, he said with a smile.
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11. (Bonus!) The Team Won't Be Called "Miami Beckham United"
Despite the wishes of one British woman seated next to him, Claure announced the team will not, in fact, be called "Miami Beckham United." Instead, Claure said he and Beckham hope to get help from Miamians in choosing a moniker.