To crowbar a stadium into the land in Overtown, a few blocks from I-95 and the Miami River, the Beckham group would not build any parking. Instead, fans would have to walk from lots as much as 15 minutes away, or from one of the three nearby commuter rail stations.
That may be an urban planner’s dream, and it fits Garber’s vision of soccer teams in downtown locations, but it appears to be a naïve assumption to residents of Miami, where the heat can be oppressive, rain storms can strike at any time and driving is a way of life.
“I want Beckham to be in the league, and he’s the guy who can make Miami work,” said one M.L.S. owner who asked not to be named because the vote on the team had not taken place. “But when we sit in the room, that’s what we talk about.”
Residents of the adjacent Spring Garden neighborhood also worry about traffic and noise spilling into their quiet residential enclave, and fear that concerts and other events will fill the stadium on nights when the team isn’t playing.
“The soccer people will tell you there will only be 15 games a year, but we think this is a ruse for concerts, and we don’t want it in our backyard,” said Ernest Martin, a former president of the Spring Garden Civic Association. “It’s all part of dumping undesirable urban projects into Overtown.”
Leiweke, who is steering the stadium project for the Beckham group, is undeterred. No tax dollars are being spent on the stadium, he said, and he suggested that fans, particularly the younger ones the team and the league want to attract, would be comfortable ditching their cars and marching to games from nearby bars and restaurants.
And while Overtown remains rough around the edges, Leiweke pointed to the new 25,500-seat stadium that was built in a similar neighborhood in Orlando, and noted that the M.L.S. team that calls it home, Orlando City S.C., has played to capacity crowds.
“You have to find a balance between what the stadium will look like in 10 years and building in a neighborhood where you don’t have to charge $500 a ticket,” Leiweke said. Of Orlando, he added, “The day-of-game experience has been positive, and the value of the property around the stadium has increased dramatically.”
Local officials pronounced themselves pleased with the plan’s economic potential. But in Miami, where a bloated deal for the Marlins stadium has turned public financing for sports stadiums into a toxic issue, the financing plan is what ultimately persuaded lawmakers to get behind the deal.
The Beckham group “asked for public assistance initially, but I said we weren’t going to give them any tax deals,” said Carlos Giménez, the mayor of Miami-Dade County. “The stadium by itself will not bring development. But more people will be walking through the area, so you’re seeing development in Overtown because of growth in downtown. It’s just geography.”
Geography is critical for Luis Garcia, whose family has owned a fish restaurant on the Miami River just a few minutes by foot from the stadium site. In recent years, upscale restaurants have opened nearby, part of the spillover from downtown. Garcia, whose father first bought property in the area decades ago, said young soccer fans would help revitalize an area with a less than desirable reputation.
“David Beckham has validated my father’s vision,” Garcia said over a lunch of fish sandwiches. The stadium “will be an economic engine.”
Before that engine can start, Beckham will have to get zoning and other approvals, likely to come next year. Then, assuming that M.L.S. owners give Beckham the green light, he will have to assemble a roster, sign a few foreign stars and start the hard work of selling tickets to skeptical fans.
“The history of soccer and pro sports teams in Miami has been spotty at best,” said David Downs, a former commissioner of the N.A.S.L., who has lived in the city. “Getting over the political hurdles is a start. But that’s only the beginning of the challenges.”
Continue reading the main story