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Miami voters set to decide on MLS stadium project

A referendum will be held in Miami in November on the David Beckham-led group’s latest stadium proposal for its Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion franchise, after the proposal was narrowly approved yesterday (Wednesday).

Miami commissioners voted 3-2 in favour of staging a referendum that will ask voters if the city should depart from usual routine by negotiating a no-bid lease with Beckham’s ownership group to develop a $1bn (€861.1m) complex containing a 25,000-seat stadium on the city’s only municipal golf course, Melreese Country Club.

Voters will be faced with the choice of whether the city should make an exception to its competitive bidding law to allow officials to negotiate the no-bid deal with the Beckham group to develop on 131 acres of public land.

The Miami Freedom Park project would include the stadium; along with 600,000 square feet of entertainment, restaurant and retail space; 400,000 square feet of office space; a golf entertainment facility; 3,750 parking spaces; 750 hotel rooms and 110 acres of open green space.

Commissioner Manolo Reyes was one of the two officials to vote against the referendum and called on a separate process to decide if the city should put the Melreese site out for a competitive bid. “We are circumventing our own statutes, our own laws,” he said, according to the Miami Herald newspaper.

In January, Beckham claimed victory in his long-running efforts to bring an MLS expansion franchise to Miami, but a number of question marks remained, including final details on the new stadium that will house the team.

The club will be owned by Beckham; Marcelo Claure, chief executive of telco Sprint and board member of SoftBank; Jorge and José Mas, the Miami-based leaders of telco and construction firm MasTec; Masayoshi Son, founder and chief executive of SoftBank; and entertainment entrepreneur and manager, Simon Fuller – a long-time Beckham associate.

It has been widely reported that the new team will begin play in 2020, although this is likely to be at a temporary site until the new stadium is developed.

Following Wednesday’s vote, Jorge Mas said the negativity surrounding the Beckham group proposal can be connected to the after effects of Miami’s experience with the development of a new ballpark for Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise the Miami Marlins. The 2009 decision to use public funds for the $515m stadium is still a contentious one.

“They’ve tainted this community that’s led to a lot of mistrust with anything having to do with this type of project,” Mas said. “That’s why from the very beginning, I’ve always said this has to be the anti-Marlins deal and tried to do everything in a different fashion, in a different way.”