As it turns out, David Beckham may yet get his MLS stadium near the water -- although the Miami River might not be exactly what the former Los Angeles Galaxy star had in mind.
Nevertheless, some 18 months after Beckham announced his intention to bring professional soccer back to Miami, the former England captain and his group of investors on Friday finally reached a “tentative agreement” with mayor Tomas Regalado to begin discussions on a site for a privately-funded 25,000-capacity soccer stadium: Marlins Park.
"This is a milestone," the mayor declared Friday following a meeting with Beckham investor and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure.
Indeed, it is.
Though by no means yet a done deal, Regalado’s backing is significant because the Miami mayor played a central role in blocking Beckham’s second-choice location, Museum Park, which is located on Biscayne Bay and sits directly across from American Airlines Arena, home of the NBA’s Miami Heat.
As the Miami Herald points out, Marlins Park, which of course houses the MLB’s Miami Marlins, has the advantage of being mostly city-owned, which allows Beckham & co to negotiate terms without having to deal with a private landholder, who would most certainly want to be bought out. If Beckham gets approval, the twin stadiums could share parking space, as well as garage space for both teams.
Though it is not the ideal downtown, on-the-bay, close-to-South Beach location that Team Beckham was hoping for, Marlins Park is just two miles from their first-choice location. Of course, depending on traffic, the driving distance between them could be as little as 10 minutes or as much as 30.
But traffic isn’t the problem.
The idea of building an MLS stadium at Marlins Park has been brought up before, but Beckham and his investors refused, at least initially, describing the baseball stadium as “spiritually tainted.”
Now, Off The Post might not use those exact words, but Miami-Dade County residents and baseball fans in particular will remember that the process of finding a site and working out the financing to build a new stadium for the then-Florida Marlins was -- let’s just say -- painful. It took the city and Miami-Dade County more than five years to hash out the deal that was eventually reached in July 2009. With more than 80 percent of the financing for the $634 million stadium coming from public money, it was also extremely unpopular with most people.
In fact, later that year, the election for the new mayor of the city of Miami was all about the Marlins Park deal, containing two candidates on opposing sides of the issue. Regalado, who opposed the stadium’s financing, would win the election by a landslide with 72 percent of the vote.
Less than two years later, Miami-Dade County voters recalled mayor Carlos Alvarez, who had struck the controversial stadium deal alongside former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and Miami-Dade County General Manager George Burgess, with many thinking his ouster was over the stadium’s financing deal. Burgess would also leave his post soon thereafter.
In spite of the messy politics, Marlins Park opened for business in April 2012. At its unveiling, Regalado, who maintained his opposition to the deal, tried to assure taxpayers that the money pumped into Marlins Park came from “tourist dollars,” instead of at taxpayers’ expense.
Even so, the $634 million stadium still rubs many people the wrong way.
Despite being housed in a world-class facility, the Miami Marlins are, by a comfortable distance, the worst-supported professional sports team in Miami-Dade County. After an initial bump in attendance during the opening season of the near-37,000-capacity ballpark, attendance has averaged out at 21,028 over past three years, making the Marlins the third-worst supported team in Major League Baseball. Its attendance average is also a little more than 1,000 more than the team used to draw when it was up at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
That being said, it’s hard to know what will happen if David Beckham’s project comes to Marlins Park. Will the stadium’s negative stigma carry over to the new MLS team? Maybe it’s history won’t have any bearing on the success or failure of another sports team in the same location. Or perhaps bringing in a new franchise will be a boon for everyone. In any event, Regalado, who never liked the Marlins Park deal in the first place, and Beckham will be mutually hoping for the latter.