MIAMI - David Beckham is a big step closer to bringing Major League Soccer back to Miami.
More than four years after he started scouting potential homes for a team, Beckham will soon have the piece of land he needs. Miami-Dade County Commissioners approved a deal Tuesday to sell three acres of county land to Beckham's group, the last part of what is a nine-acre plot on which a 25,000-seat stadium is planned.
Miami Beckham United group will pay just over $9 million for the last piece of land. It has already paid $19 million for the other six acres needed. Beckham's group says the planned stadium would be privately funded, and the stadium would also be subject to county property tax.
It's a major development in what has been at times an arduously slow - and often frustrating - process for the English soccer icon and his plans for Miami. MLS has not officially awarded Miami an expansion franchise, because of the lack of a land and stadium deal.
"By purchasing the last piece of land needed for our privately-funded stadium, Miami Beckham United (MBU) is achieving another major milestone on the way to Major League Soccer formally awarding Miami a franchise," Miami Beckham United said in a statement. "Now is the time for MLS to move forward in helping us deliver the soccer club that Miami has been waiting for," the statement added, in reference to the final approval needed from the MLS board to launch the new franchise.
Miami is the eighth largest metro area in the U.S., and considered one of the country’s top potential soccer markets, and a gateway to Latin America and Europe. "MLS will only reach its full potential once it fields a team here," the Beckham group said.
A contract he signed in 2007 with the Los Angeles Galaxy gave Beckham the right to start an expansion franchise for $25 million, and in 2013 he picked Miami as where he would want to put a team. The plan has changed many times along the way, most notably because he was unable to get waterfront land that his group first coveted for a stadium site.
"I will tell you this is probably the best site we have found, for many respects," Beckham group attorney Neisen Kasdin said, before listing reasons that include the site's proximity to several modes of public transportation and the Miami River.
The vote in Miami on Beckham's land deal was preceded by several members of the community urging commissioners to vote no, mostly citing noise and traffic concerns. A few supporters spoke as well, and after three hours of discussion commissioners approved the deal 9-4.
"This land has been an eyesore for years. ... Something needs to be done with it, now," said Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, who represents the neighborhood where the stadium is planned.
The deal that allowed the Miami Marlins to get a new taxpayer-built ballpark on the former Orange Bowl site is still the source of major contention for the city and the county. There's also skepticism about the Beckham group's plan to build a stadium with no on-site parking, with plans instead to rely on shuttles, walking and public transportation.
"As far as sports deals go with the county, this one isn't so bad," Commissioner Joe Martinez said.
Beckham is not the only huge global soccer name pursuing MLS expansion these days; Landon Donovan has joined the ownership group that is hoping to bring a team to San Diego.
It has not been easy going for either.
The victory for Beckham came just one day after San Diego's City Council decided not to finance a special election that would have brought plans of building a new soccer complex there to a vote. In a pair of tweets, Donovan wrote that "we have to respect the process" and that "just because we're down at halftime doesn't mean we stop trying."
Additional reporting by David Adams