Ethics Commission Green Lights Miami MLS Stadium Negotiations

Miami Freedom Park MLS stadium

Miami MLS stadium negotiations have been cleared to begin by the Miami-Dade ethics commission, after a lobbyist registration issue involving the David Beckham ownership group was resolved.

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.

Technically, MLS investment falls under a separate structure from Miami Freedom Park, LLC–an entity solely owned by Jorge Mas that will enter into negotiations with the city over the stadium and associated development. An ethics complaint was filed on the grounds that the exact ownership structure was not revealed prior to the election, effectively leaving uncertainty about who would be behind negotiations. Though the complaint remains open, the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust gave the city permission to launch negotiations Wednesday after the lobbyist registration issue was resolved. Miami Freedom Park, LLC remains under Mas’s ownership for now, but his attorney says that the other MLS investors will become partners in Miami Freedom Park, LLC if the agreement moves forward. More from the Miami Herald:

[Commissioner Manolo] Reyes echoed David Winker, the Miami resident and attorney who filed a complaint with the ethics commission over the lobbyist registration issue. Winker maintained that not disclosing the ownership structure of the group doing business with the city left the public in the dark about who’s behind a massive lease of public land.

On Wednesday, an attorney representing Mas told the Herald that Mas is contractually bound to include Beckham and the other team investors in the ownership of Miami Freedom Park later on. Attorney Richard Perez said Mas’ sole ownership of Miami Freedom Park LLC was a “corporate formality” and that Mas will be required to share opportunities such as the Freedom Park deal with his MLS partners.

Those disclosures were made late last week after pressure from the ethics commission and the city — disclosures that are legally required for everyone who registers to lobby but do not appear to be enforced in the city. Officials from the soccer group insisted they were being treated unfairly.

Now, City Manager Emilio Gonzalez and his staff plan to work with Mas on a document that will outline the terms under which Melreese golf course, located on 131 acres of public land next to Miami International Airport, will be radically transformed into Miami Freedom Park — a $1 billion private development that would include a 25,000-seat stadium in a 10-acre corner of the property that would serve as home to Club Internacional de Fútbol de Miami, or Inter Miami.

Although it was a major step forward, approval from voters in November’s election did not automatically ensure that the stadium project will come to fruition. The city and Miami Freedom Park, LLC will have to negotiate a 99-year land lease for the site, an agreement that will require approval from four of Miami’s five city commissioners. Inter Miami CF is slated to begin play in 2020, though the earliest that the new stadium is expected to open is 2021.

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