David Beckham and Jorge Mas got their referendum asking Miami voters to replace Melreese Country Club with a $1 billion commercial real-estate complex including a Major League Soccer stadium. But now comes the hard part: convincing Miamians this is the greatest stadium deal ever.
That's an especially tough sell because Beckham and Mas want to displace a community institution. I am a friend of Charlie DeLucca and his family, the folks who run Melreese. And I know very well the success of the First Tee youth golf program, which teaches local kids the game. In fact, I learned to play golf at Melreese under coach Joe Roach during a summer program when I was growing up in Liberty City. Back then, I didn’t like the sport. But when I was making records and playing the role of hip-hop’s resident bad boy, I learned to appreciate golf. And even though I lived in Country Club of Miami in Northwest Dade, I preferred to hit the links at Melreese.
However, it’s hard to argue that keeping a golf course, even one that's more affordable to the public, is better than building an MLS stadium with a park that includes dozens of soccer fields. Given Miami’s growing soccer culture, the city needs a professional franchise. And soccer is the fastest-growing sport in America.
One day, soccer will surpass American football, a sport that's losing its identity every day. It’s losing its values of brotherhood and camaraderie amid the whole kneeling controversy, the alarming rate of players suffering brain damage, and the plantation-owner mentality of the NFL. Even the Liberty City Optimist Club, long known for producing some of the greatest pro football players in the nation, recently began offering a soccer program for kids.
The smartest play would've been for the Beckham group to build a soccer stadium at Tropical Park and partner with the University of Miami to use it as the home field for the Hurricanes football team. A facility there would easily draw soccer and college football fans from Miami, Coral Gables, South Miami, Doral, and most of West Dade.
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Instead, Beckham and Mas cooked up this project at the expense of the DeLuccas, First Tee, and locals who have relied on Melreese for decades. Beckham did so by doing what every other outsider looking to cut a deal with local government does: He partnered with a wealthy, prominent Cuban-American who knows how to work Miami politicians. In Beckham’s case, he brought in Jorge Mas, scion of the late Cuban exile leader Jorge Mas Canosa. It would have been nice if the international soccer star had also sought out a local black partner. Instead, we get more of the same. The Cubans get a cut, while the blacks are left out.
Despite what naysayers claim, Mayor Francis Suarez and Commissioners Joe Carollo, Keon Hardemon, and Ken Russell have earned the people’s trust. They will do what is right for all residents of Miami.
And even though the soccer star and his billionaire partner are promising thousands of jobs for the community, they will need to do better than that to win the black vote. They cannot pay off the African-American community like the pastors and community activists because the community is coming together to make sure we get a real ownership stake in this project.
Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.