David Beckham was nervous and moody. Crunch day – yet another one – had arrived for his hopes of creating an MLS franchise in Miami.
Three years of struggle, red tape, legal arguments and public anger had seen the Manchester United legend’s hopes nearly extinguished. Yet last Tuesday, a glimmer of light peeped through the gloom. As I walked into a packed chamber room at Miami City Hall, the tension was palpable.
TV cameras were in position to see if city officials would allow Beckham to buy the remaining $9 million adjacent plot of land to go with the $19 million purchase last year. The former truck depot has become contaminated.
An unused eyesore. While the residents of Overtown – the run-down area of downtown Miami – have recently held their hands up and admitted there’s no choice but to go through with the plans for a 25,000 capacity stadium, the people of Spring Garden the adjoining neighbourhood – had one last chance to throw a spanner in the works.
The final vote went 9-4 in favour of Beckham United, though the former England captain was made to sweat. One by one, angry residents were invited up to the stage. “You’re not thinking about my kids,” said one. “How is she going to be able to do her homework with all that noise coming from a match or concert.”
Others pleaded for county officials to think of the implications. “We aren’t eating Beckham’s baloney,” said another. “We could eat for a month. Why not invest in the arts?” I’m sure, if there was a globally recognised superstar ready to pump in excess of $200 million into the area to create a wonderful, all-purpose, state-of-the-art gallery complex with adjoining activity centres for kids, that could be an option.
It would certainly be a better move than one suggestion of installing a ‘Home Depot’ or ‘Costco Supermarket’ instead.
Of course, a massive retail store with huge trucks unloading day in and day out would inject far more into a fractured community than an embryonic soccer team which can infiltrate all parts of society – both in the Overtown area as well as spreading deep into the vast Miami and South Florida catchment zones.
The stadium will also be a concert venue, staging around 40 events a year. Beckham United officials stressed the nature of the music would be taken into account. There won’t be two weeks of death metal or pumping house music. “It’s not a great deal, but it’s not bad either,” said Miami Dade county commissioner Audrey Edmonson.
“It will also be to the advantage of the residents of Overtown.” This is a poor part of the city which has been dealt a bad hand by local authorities. Overtown itself used to be a bustling area with local businesses at the fore. Now, you wouldn’t walk through there after dark. Yet, the bottom-line is money talks.
While residents’ worries are understandable, the positives of having MLS on the doorstep can not be discounted. Beckham must spend at least $175 million on the stadium. Jobs will be created – around 50 initially with 26 guaranteed to bring in $27,000 per year – with more to follow.
Life will be pumped into the area. Links with schools are being forged. Yes, affordable housing is needed, but the city has known that for years and not done anything. There will be no parking.
Instead, fans will be ferried in from various parts of the city while being urged to walk up to the stadium in an effort to create a European-style atmosphere. With fans traipsing around the streets, local business will be invigorated.
There will be money making options for those desperately struggling to make ends meet. MLS need to approve the stadium plans and investor group while the city itself also must ratify plans. A ball will not be kicked until 2020 at the earliest but the wheels are finally in motion.
Tim Leiweke, the sports entrepreneur who helped bring the Englishman to LA Galaxy from Real Madrid in 2007, told me: “David has been constantly on the phone and he’s been grouchy. “He wants to get on with it but is happy now we have control of the situation instead of the situation taking control of us.”
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