Miami MLS Stadium at Melresse Vote Set for Thursday

New Miami Soccer Stadium Beckham

A vote on Thursday could allow a proposed Miami MLS stadium at Melreese Country Club to proceed toward the November ballot, but questions over the plan will linger for months. 

The Miami MLS group led by David Beckham and his partners, including MasTec executive Jorge Mas, will present highly anticipated details on Thursday afternoon for a proposal that includes a new MLS stadium at the city-owned Melreese Country Club. All in all, the redevelopment would cost $1 billion, funded by the Beckham ownership group. The city is being asked to lease part of Melreese, an action that will require voter approval in a fall referendum.

More details should emerge following that presentation, but the plan calls for the group to construct a new stadium along with surrounding development that includes lodging, retail, and entertainment space. Soccer fields are included in the overall plan, which will also see the group financially commit to the development of new public green space at the site.

Discussions over a new Miami MLS stadium had previously been focused on a nine-acre site in the city’s Overtown neighborhood. However, reports in recent months indicated that the group was seeking a larger site that could support surrounding development in addition to the stadium. The site’s ability to support surrounding amenities is a major factor in the group’s interest in Melreese, as financial projections released earlier this week forecast show that the mixed-used development–more so than the stadium–will be a major revenue source for the group. More from The Miami Herald:

A spreadsheet listing various revenue sources shows soccer would be a relatively small part of business operations at the Freedom Park complex. Sales from shops, restaurants and entertainment venues are forecast at $385 million, with just $42 million of that coming from the soccer stadium’s anticipated 23 events a year. In other words, for every dollar spent at Freedom Park, about 11 cents would be at Beckham’s stadium.

The forecast doesn’t offer insight into how much of that revenue would be profits for Beckham and partners, who would preside over one of the larger shopping destinations in Miami, with 600,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space.

The vote by Miami commissioners on Thursday would allow the proposal to proceed toward the November ballot. If it moves to referendum as expected, the plan is expected to draw sharp opinions–while some favor the stadium and broader development concept, others are calling for the preservation of Melreese, which is the only publicly owned golf course in the city.

As discussions over the site continue, one of the major sticking points could be its environmental history. Miami acknowledged building public parks on top of toxic waste from a trash incinerator that operated in the Coconut Grove neigborhood for much of the 20th century. After ash was discovered in Grapeland Park–which borders the Melresse site–officials began running tests on Melresse.

According to the Miami New Times, which took a deep look in the site’s history, it was eventually recommended that soil testing close because it was expected that the site would remain a golf course indefinitely. Redevelopment of the site into a stadium and mixed-use development, however, could trigger more questions, not only about the site’s environmental condition but how to move forward with a cleanup if it is needed:

In 2006, the county ordered follow-up soil testing at Melreese to test for a wide range of potentially harmful contaminants like barium, copper, and dioxins. They found that the samples exceeded Miami-Dade’s standards for residential areas for several of those contaminants, but that the levels were below standards for commercial areas. (They also found elevated arsenic, though they attributed this to pesticides commonly used at golf courses.)

In the end, the tests recommended closing ongoing [Department of Environmental Resources Management] soil testing, because “the city intends to maintain this site as a golf course in perpetuity.”

Of course, that resolution goes out the window if Melreese stops operating as a golf course. Any large-scale construction on the site would probably mean digging up untold cubic feet of toxic incinerator ash — and would force developers and the city to work with DERM on a plan to properly dispose of it.

“Any time the city or developer is going to modify or alter any site that has documented contamination, those modifications are mandated countywide to submit their plans to us for approval,” [chief of DERM’s Environmental Monitoring and Restoration Division Wilbur] Mayorga says. “The development plan must show that modification will render it safe. For example, any contaminated soil or waste needs to be properly disposed of.”

MLS officially awarded an expansion franchise to Miami in January, but the stadium site has been in question for several months. Overtown was announced as the preferred site in late 2015, though the emphasis on development helped trigger the shift in focus to Melreese, which is located near Miami International Airport.

Even if the MLS stadium initiative reaches the November ballot and is passed by voters, it will not be completely finalized. Beckham and his group would still have to negotiate lease terms with the City of Miami, and that agreement will need approval from at least four of Miami’s five commissioners.

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