MIAMI – Former England captain David Beckham told supporters he was bringing Major League Soccer to Miami “no matter what” Thursday, even as his latest stadium plan sparked opposition.
The former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder and his partners presented Miami commissioners with a proposal that would see their 25,000-seat stadium – along with a hotel and entertainment and retail space – take over the site of Melreese Country Club, where the publicly owned golf course houses the youth golf program First Tee Miami.
Commissioners were considering whether to ask Miami voters if the city should change its rules for competitive bidding on private use of public land.
A referendum on the issue would be on the ballot in November, and only if it passed would the city negotiate with Beckham’s group on details of the plan.
“It’s been a long time since I walked into a room and people didn’t smile at me. It’s not nice,” Beckham told hundreds of children and adults who attended the meeting to voice opposition to the project.
More than 130 beneficiaries of the First Tee program, wearing orange tee shirts, arrived before 6:00 am, although supporters of Beckham turned out, too.
“We are a community center, we are not just a golf course,” John Moscoso, program director for First Tee Miami, told AFP.
He said the Miami chapter offers services to more than 2,500 children and young adults a year.
“If a stadium is set up in this area, these children will not have anywhere to go after school, and we know what happens when these children have nowhere to go,” he said.
Beckham acknowledged their concerns, but noted the 44-hectare project, called Miami Freedom Park, would include along with the stadium, a 750-room hotel, restaurant and retail space, a public park and youth soccer fields.
“I grew up in the East End of London, with a working-class family, Beckham said. “I was given the opportunity to play the game I love … We’re trying to make you realize this is an opportunity here.”
Jorge Mas, the Miami tycoon who is part of Beckham’s ownership group, urged commissioners to put the matter to Miami voters.
He said the project, which will be developed with $1-billion (R13-billion) in private investment, will represent $44-million (R572-million) in taxes for the city as well as the creation of 11,000 jobs over nine years.
“There isn’t a single site in Miami that we haven’t looked at,” Mas said of the tortuous search for a suitable stadium site. “This is a decision for the voters.”
Before Mas joined Beckham’s group, Beckham had proposed a stadium in a downtown Miami neighbourhood, a project that was abandoned amid criticism it lacked parking and was going to worsen the already chaotic traffic of the Florida city, in addition to displacing low-income residents.