LowT Gimenez scrambles to please Beckham Bromance

Miami Herald:

County scrambling to find new land as Beckham prepares to buy a rejected stadium site


David Beckham and partners are on the verge of acquiring a stadium site they no longer need for soccer, and the pending acquisition has Miami-Dade’s water department scrambling to find a place to station dozens of trucks and vehicles in Overtown.

Though the Beckham group abandoned plans for an Overtown stadium last year in favor of a city-owned location close to Miami International Airport, the partners still have three acres of county land under contract from the prior plan. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he was surprised when the Beckham group notified the county last month it planned to exercise its right to quickly buy the Water and Sewer truck depot and warehouse at 678 NW Seventh St., for $9 million.

It’s not known why the Beckham partners want the land, once part of a nine-acre assemblage in Overtown for a 25,000-seat stadium on a site so cramped there was no room for parking garages. This week the Beckham group released a detailed plan and lease proposal for its chosen 73-acre stadium site on Miami’s Melreese golf course, which would be replaced with the Major League Soccer facility, a mall, office park, hotel and new city park.

The no-bid purchase agreement for the Overtown property that Miami-Dade commissioners approved in June 2017 requires construction of a stadium on the land, along with creation of 50 permanent, full-time jobs on the property and an investment of at least $175 million.

Last month, Gimenez said Beckham’s lead local partner, Jorge Mas, told him the partnership planned to pursue city permits to build a stadium on the Overtown site in order to satisfy a Major League Soccer deadline to show regulatory progress toward the franchise’s permanent home. Publicly, Mas has called the Overtown site a backup if the Melreese talks fall through.

But Gimenez said he and Mas discussed other options for the Overtown property, including affordable housing and an office facility. Gimenez said commissioners could vote to alter the original deal and allow for non-stadium uses of the land.

Wealthy activist Bruce Matheson unsuccessfully sued over the no-bid agreement, arguing other developers should have had a chance to compete for the property. During the litigation, county lawyers noted the Beckham group was the only entity able to offer the county a Major League Soccer stadium for the site. Miami-Dade used state economic-development laws to approve the no-bid sale.

The “underlying purpose of this conveyance is not only to construct a soccer stadium, but also to establish a home for a Major League Soccer franchise in the County,” county lawyers wrote in an August 2017 filing.

Matheson’s 2017 suit delayed the closing date on the property until the litigation was resolved. When the Florida Supreme Court refused to hear the case last month, that triggered a one-week deadline for the Beckham group to decide whether to pay more to keep the contract viable or give up the land.

The 2017 deal with the county allowed the Beckham group to pay a $900,000 installment this month in order to delay the final closing until December. Gimenez said he assumed Mas planned to announce plans for a delayed closing when they met on May 20, but that Mas informed the mayor and aides that the group would purchase the land outright. The closing is scheduled for June 18.

With the sale of the land days away, county administrators are rushing to buy or rent a replacement facility to house a fleet of about 70 Water and Sewer vehicles and equipment stored there. The county wants to keep the vehicles close to a Water and Sewer operations center less than a mile away on Northwest 11th St.

Lance Llewelyn, chief of the department’s Water Transmission and Distribution Division, wrote a county real estate manager on May 23 to describe the loss of the Overtown depot as a significant problem if a nearby replacement couldn’t be found.

County crews “need to have a property close to the NW 11th Street Facility, as the efficiency and effectiveness [of] our operations as well as the productivity of our crews will be seriously affected if the equipment needed for our daily operations is not housed at a location that will allow for that,” Llewelyn wrote. “In your search for properties to satisfy that need, please consider obtaining something within the same distance as the [Seventh Street] property.”

Jennifer Messemer, spokeswoman for Water and Sewer, said the agency will try to buy or rent a replacement facility. If that can’t be accomplished quickly enough, Water and Sewer can use existing county facilities to redeploy the trucks to multiple locations, Messemer said.

Proceeds from the sale go to Water and Sewer, a county agency funded almost entirely by fees from water bills. It does not receive taxes charged on property or sales transactions, revenue sources that fund much of Miami-Dade’s $2 billion budget for general government services, such as police, parks and transportation.

Messemer said with the Beckham group’s paying $9 million for what’s largely a parking lot, Water and Sewer should be able to create ample storage space for the vehicles in another location by building a modern parking structure. “The quick math suggests we could build nearly three stacked parking spaces for every vehicle with the money made from the land sale,” she said.

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