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Since political opposition began mounting against building a soccer stadium on public land in downtown Miami land, the investment group backing the idea has repeatedly said it would have no problem selecting a private site instead.

Miami Beckham United faced that choice last month when Miami-Dade County officials helped them find private property that would have met their acreage requirements on a mostly vacant riverfront site.

The Beckham group passed.

“As early or as late as last week, I was identifying another site,” County Mayor Carlos Gimenez told county commissioners May 20. “We continue to look for other places. The last site that we saw was not viable due to exorbitant cost of the land that was part of that particular site.”

A spokesman for the mayor’s office said that although Gimenez spoke of a specific site at the meeting, his office looked at wide swaths along the Miami River to identify 10- to 12-acre parcels for a stadium.

One particular site considered was 1001 NW Seventh Street, a vacant 6.3-acre parcel south of the Miami River between Northwest Ninth and 12th avenues owned by real estate developer Royal Atlantic Developer. But contiguous lots owned by the county, city and state could have added at least 5.2 acres. Four other privately parcels could have created a 12.5-acre site.

Michael Hernandez, the county mayor’s spokesman, said that site, once the home of the Miami News near Little Havana, was “never seriously considered due to pricing.” City officials were not involved in looking at the site.

Asked about the previously undisclosed possibility of a stadium on that site, John Alschuler, a real estate adviser to the Beckham group, said it was “unproductive to speculate about private negotiations between private parties.”

Marlins Playbook

The fact the Beckham group passed on what could have been a mostly private waterfront site could add a talking point to opponents of the proposed stadium. Critics have noted the venture has repeatedly said it would pay fair market value for the land it would need, but it has been averse to testing the waters of the open market.

“They’re following the playbook of the Miami Marlins, which is to take advantage of elected officials and municipal staffers that are inexperienced in these kinds of transactions,” said Peter Ehrlich, a co-founder of activist group Scenic Miami who opposes a soccer stadium at the downtown Museum Park. “They’re betting that they’ll be able to bamboozle the city and county and pay almost no rent or minimal rent.”

Legal advisers to Miami Beckham United said they looked at 30 sites and narrowed the search to six locations. Five sites—the southwest corner of PortMiami, two locations near Marlins Park, one Edgewater lot controlled by the county school board and one by Miami International Airport—consisted largely of government land. The only mostly private space to receive serious consideration was a 12-acre assemblage in Wynwood.

Part of the reason might be the group’s view of what price it considers fair.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Daily Business Review, Alschuler explained Miami Beckham United’s commitment to pay “market price” might not mean the same based on land use.

“Let’s talk about what market price is,” Alschuler said. “Market price is set by what you’d be allowed to build on the property, right? That’s what sets market price. If I take a piece of land and say you can only build a single-family home, obviously the price would be different than if I can build a 60-story condominium on the same land.”

Alschuler said a stadium would not be as profitable as a large residential development, which is why “it’s not fair to ask someone to compete” for land available to other private developers.

‘Meaningful Payment’

Alschuler suggested the fair market value the soccer group would be willing to pay assumes a stadium use, and that would be the basis for his client’s negotiations with the city and county going forward. The group has said if approved by a referendum, it would fill in a city-owned dock north of the American Airlines Arena, landscape much of Museum Park and build the stadium on its dime. The venture also has committed to pay rent for the land.

“What we have to sort out at Museum Park is what market price is for that space since you can’t build a 60-story condominium, that not being permissible today, and that being something that would be overwhelmingly defeated I believe if it was put up to the voters,” Alschuler said. “It’s not like we want different treatment. It’s not like we want special treatment. We want the same and equitable treatment of any transaction, taking into consideration that the value of the site is governed by what you’re allowed to build.”

Alschuler said any negotiated rent would be a “very fair, significant and meaningful payment for use of the land.”

Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado told the Daily Business Review that the city would make the initial determination on a lease price. Last month, Regalado said his administration was hiring consultants to determine the value of the land.

“What’s important in this conversation is what we’re the ones who are going to ask Beckham’s group to pay the city,” Regalado said. “If it’s good business or bad business, that’s up to them. We’re going to present them what we think is a good deal for the city and the people who decide will be Miami’s residents.”

He stressed that in spite of the county’s participation in the proposal so far, he was unwilling to share lease revenue.

“Whatever benefit is derived from this has to go to the city of Miami. The county is a marginal participant here,” he said.