Garber Upset with Inter Miami CF Stadium Discussions

Miami Freedom Park rendering

MLS commissioner Don Garber recently weighed in on the Miami Freedom Park discussions, expressing his frustration with the city’s approach to negotiations.

Inter Miami CF, which begins play next spring as an expansion team, is proposing Miami Freedom Park, a planned redevelopment of the city-owned Melreese Country Club that would include a new soccer-specific stadium and surrounding development. The club received a boost last November, when Miami voters approved a referendum that allows the city to negotiate a 99-year lease for the project. The referendum did not finalize plans, however, as Inter Miami CF investors and Miami officials still have to work out the terms of a land lease and eventually have it approved by four of Miami’s five city commissioners.

Negotiations have not led to an agreement yet and have caused tension at times, with Miami City Commissioners recently moving to conduct a series of crucial votes on Thursday. One vote would be on an agreement for the project–even though some city officials have contended that a deal will not be ready by that time–while a separate vote would direct the city to cease negotiations with the team, and open the property up for bidding.

In commenting on the situation this week, Garber expressed frustration with how the city has handled the process politically. More from ESPN:

“There have been continuous challenges in Miami, and it’s frustrating,” said Garber in an exclusive interview. “MLS has shown such a commitment to the City of Miami, and been so patient for so many years. We’ve done everything we said we would do. We found an unbelievable local owner in Jorge Mas and his partner Marcelo Claure. They’ve invested over $100 million in a temporary facility, all based on the fact that there was public referendum that supported our path to signing a lease at the Melreese site.

“Now all of a sudden, there’s a bunch of folks that are backtracking on some of the commitments that were made. I find it frustrating and at times infuriating. It seems as if we’re getting caught up in a political mess that is not of our making. I’m very disappointed.”

Last November, voters approved a referendum by a 20-point margin that authorized the city commission to negotiate a 99-year lease for the project. That was by no means the end to the political obstacles. Since the project is a no-bid deal, four of the five city commissioners have to approve the lease. Commissioners Manolo Reyes and Willy Gort have long voiced opposition to the project. Reyes has sponsored both of the resolutions related to the Melreese proposal.

“I understand Mr. Garber’s frustration but his job is to promote MLS, and for Mr. Mas and his partners this is a business decision,” Commissioner Reyes said via email. “My job is to protect the interest of the residents and our greenspaces/parks of the City of Miami.

City officials had a contentious debate over Thursday’s planned vote earlier this month. Commissioners critical of the plan have criticized Inter Miami CF and supporters within city government of dragging out negotiations, claiming that are trying to stretch discussions beyond November’s election in hopes of eventually putting the proposal before a more favorable commission. Other city officials, however, have said that a vote this week would be premature, given the amount of the work that has to be done before an agreement could be presented for commissioner approval.

Inter Miami CF is backed by a group that includes David Beckham, as well as Jorge and Jose Mas and other investors. It will begin play next spring at the stadium in Fort Lauderdale that is being constructed as part of its training academy, starting what is intended to be temporary stay for MLS matches until a new Miami home can be constructed.

Rendering courtesy Inter Miami CF.

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