Decisive questions remained shortly before retired soccer star David Beckham headed for what may be a showdown vote on his latest plan for a Miami soccer stadium.
The City Commission is set to decide Wednesday whether to schedule a November referendum on the lease of its Melreese golf course for the $1 billion project that would include a 25,000-seat soccer stadium and more than 1 million square feet of newly developed real estate.
The commission deferred a decision Thursday after a nearly eight-hour meeting, including about half spent in commission discussions and questioning Beckham’s representatives about the future of the city-owned International Links Melreese Country Club.
The referendum hinges in part on Beckham and partners meeting demands set by City Commission Vice Chairman Ken Russell, who could be a swing vote.
Most of Russell’s requirements appear to have been met, including no city expense for onsite toxic soil cleanup. But two remain — the city would get 5 percent of the gross proceeds and project construction workers and permanent employees would get a $15-an-hour wage.
“They are still doing calculation on whether that is a workable request,” Russell said Monday shortly after meeting with Beckham partner Jorge Mas. “Nothing has been finalized.”
Russell said he needed the developers to commit to the last two items to get his vote Wednesday.
“When we do have the ability as a city, because it’s our property to create some leverage to see that the tenants provide a fair wage, we need to do that,” Russell added, pointing to wage and cost-of-living disparities in South Florida.
Holland & Knight partner Richard Perez, who represents Beckham and his business partners, didn’t respond Monday to a request for comment but addressed the living-wage issue Thursday.
“It’s a very difficult one at this point to really sort of commit to,” Perez said. “We will commit to working with your office on all of these issues. Some of these have a very dramatic financial impact on the bottom line.”
Mas, who also didn’t respond to a request for comment, argued against revenue sharing at the meeting, saying it was negated by a commitment to develop at no cost to the city.
“If I were to stand here and ask you to participate as partners, then I think a percentage of revenue would be appropriate,” Mas said.
Russell responded: “We believe that we are in a sense partners here because it’s not just land that we are giving. We are giving our people. This is their asset, not ours.”
Beckham’s representatives already agreed to a slew of other requests including no net loss of city parks and no spending taxpayer money, even on environmental cleanup included.
The county in 2015 discovered toxic ash under Melreese in some places more than 4 feet thick. The city and golf course managers placed barriers between the toxic soil and golfers, according to the Miami New Times.
Mas has budgeted $35 million for the toxic soil cleanup, even though in the worst-case scenario it would cost $50 million, he told the Miami Herald Editorial Board on Monday.
More environmental studies could show contamination prevents any project on the site, although that’s unlikely, and costs largely depend on the depth of lakes, Perez said at the July 12 meeting. If lakes are 30 feet instead of the expected 15 feet, cleanup would be much more expensive.
The proposal for the 150-acre Melreese property east of Miami International Airport calls for development of 110 acres including a 750-room hotel, a 400,000-square-foot technology hub and office space, 600,000 square feet of retail, an amphitheater outside the stadium where games could be projected, a baseball complex and 23 acres of youth soccer fields, according to records submitted by developers to the city.
So far, Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon and Commissioner Joe Carollo support a referendum, and Commissioners Manolo Reyes and Willy Gort, who represents the district where Melreese is located, are against. A referendum would require four-fifths approval.
Gort and Reyes have issues with developers ignoring residents near the project site and not conducting meetings with the community. Perez at the meeting vowed to do more community outreach.
Reyes also took issue with the no-bid approach allowing Beckham’s Major League Soccer group to proceed without competition on public property. This has been a sticking point with opponents who say the city could get more revenue with competition.
Carollo argued the project would open more land to public access and said lease details could be hammered out after a vote.
“If it passes, then comes the real big part, which is trying to put a realistic lease together. That might even take a whole year because there’s a lot of factors involved,” he said Thursday.
Beckham and his partners, brothers Jorge and Jose Mas, who head Coral Gables-based infrastructure company MasTec Inc., are proposing to pay just over $3.5 million in annual rent. That could rise if appraisals show the rent should be higher.
The developers and their representatives have tried to shake off any association with the controversial Marlins Park, which was built on city land that was the former home of the Orange Bowl.
Beckham, who was awarded an MLS franchise in January, also is working with British entrepreneur Simon Fuller, Sprint and SoftBank chairman Masayoshi Son and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure.
“We are doing things as fast as we can. We are under a significant amount of pressure by MLS by legal agreement,” Perez said. “We do not and I do not have the luxury of a lot of time,” he said, referring to the environmental cleanup.