Miami MLS stadium site focuses on Marlins Park area

MLSSuccumbing to political realities, the David Beckham-led investment group seeking to build a Miami MLS stadium will begin negotiating with the city for the use of land next to Marlins Park.

The Beckham group, which includes Marcelo Claure and American Idol creator Simon Fuller, has been working for over a year on a Miami MLS stadium site, initially focusing on downtown waterfront sites. Those efforts were rebuffed by both the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County, who were gently pushing the MLS stadium site search toward the former Orange Bowl site in Little Havana. There are several advantages to this site: much of the site is already publicly owned and includes infrastructure (parking, freeway access) in place to serve Miami Marlins fans. And with the clock running on getting a stadium deal in place so Beckham could exercise his option for a discounted expansion franchise, the decision was made to move ahead with talks regarding the Marlins Park site.

But plenty of issues remain, including the scope of the project. The Beckham group had hoped to include the University of Miami as a tenant, but that would mean a much larger facility (40,000, as opposed to the 25,000 capacity recommended for an MLS facility). It would also mean the University of Miami athletic department to buy out their lease at SunLife Stadium, which has more than 17 years to run. That issue needs to be worked out before anything else, really: design and financing will depend on the capacity as well as related issues, such as administrative spaces and locker rooms. So while this is being hailed as a breakthrough, it’s also merely the beginning of talks. From the Miami Herald:

In an interview, [Miami Mayor Tomás] Regalado said he has not discussed traditional ground rent with Claure but instead is asking for “community benefits” that could include special programs for youth, free tickets for residents and other non-monetary offers. “My ask of Marcelo Claure was to have a lot of public benefits for the City of Miami, and the children of Miami,” Regalado said.

While Miami-Dade and Miami contributed about $490 million in borrowed construction dollars to Marlins Park, and anger over that 2009 arrangement limited what the Beckham group could ask of elected leaders for a soccer stadium. So far, the negotiations have mostly involved securing free or low-cost public land with a privately financed venue. “This is not a Marlins stadium deal,” Regalado said. “That’s my main message.”

The news could also set a decision about MLS expansion in gear. MLS expansion news peaked with the announcement that Minnesota United FC would join the soccer circuit in 2018, and since then there have been whispers and shrouded comments about the direction of Major League Soccer in coming years. It’s become very clear the preferred route for MLS is to award the next expansion team to Miami’s David Beckham group, bringing MLS to 24 teams in 2018.

RELATED STORIES: Marlins Park back in play for Miami MLS stadium; Miami-Dade pushing Beckham MLS team to FIU home; Beckham: We’re close to MLS stadium decision; Garber: Miami no longer lock for MLS franchise; Another prominent Miami politician pushes MLS stadium next to Marlins Park; MLS rejects Little Havana stadium site; Beckham looking at LA?; Beckham MLS bid now seeking Plan C stadium solution; Miami rejects boat-slip site for new Beckham MLS stadium; Miami-Dade: No new MLS stadium for Beckham at port site

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