Attorney Files Two Lawsuits Over Miami Freedom Park Proposal

New Miami Soccer Stadium Beckham

An attorney has filed two lawsuits over the Miami Freedom Park proposal, bringing new challenges to the plan for an MLS stadium and surrounding development. 

In November, Miami voters approved a referendum that allows the city to negotiate a 99-year lease for the redevelopment of the city-owned Melreese Country Club into a new development that includes an Inter Miami CF stadium. Inter Miami CF is an MLS expansion squad backed by a group headlined by David Beckham, who is joined in the effort by prominent local businessmen Jorge and Jose Mas, SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son, and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure.

Plans for the development are still pending negotiation–and any agreement will require final approval from four of Miami’s five city commissioners–but two lawsuits filed in the past week by local attorney David Winker raise concerns over the process. One lawsuit filed last Friday–and first reported by Daily Business Review–contends that the ownership structure of the entity negotiating with the city was not properly disclosed, while another filed Tuesday questioned if the land targeted for the project was described correctly by the city. More from the Miami Herald:

In a two-count complaint filed in Miami-Dade County court late Tuesday, Winker argues that city documents did not clearly describe the land. The resolution to hold the referendum, passed by Miami commissioners in July on a 3-2 vote, identifies the 131 acres as property under two folio numbers, which are unique numbers used to legally identify land parcels.

That referendum passed with 60 percent approval in November, when voters gave Miami’s government permission to skip the usual competitive bidding process to negotiate a lease of public land with Mas and his associates. The vote allows the city to give Mas and Beckham a one-time exception from the law meant to force an open competition among proposals for private use of public land — a law that is supposed to ensure taxpayers get a good deal for their land.

Winker’s lawsuit asserts that the math presented to voters doesn’t add up. The two adjacent parcels total about 157 acres — a larger slice of land than the 131 acres proposed in the referendum. Because of the 26-acre discrepancy, Winker maintains the city should not be allowed to use the referendum as authorization to negotiate the no-bid lease.

If the court disagrees, Winker says development should be restricted to 131 acres, which might not be enough land for the vision presented in renderings released to the public with much fanfare last summer. Those images, when compared to Miami-Dade property records cited in the lawsuit, suggest the proposed development requires more than 131 acres.

Winker previously filed an ethics complaint that, up until recently, had prevented the City of Miami and Miami Freedom Park, LLC from launching negotiations. Though the two sides were permitted to begin negotiations, an inquiry relating to that complaint is still taking place. Additionally, Bruce Mathesonwho had raised a legal challenge concerning the MLS group’s previously preferred stadium site in Overtown–filed a lawsuit over the Melreese proposal before November’s referendum, while another challenge brought over the summer was dismissed but an appeal has since been filed.

Inter Miami CF is currently slated to begin play in 2020, though the earliest that the new stadium is expected to open is 2021.

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