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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Beckham Stadium in Miami depends on voters

Por Damian

David Beckham's five-year odyssey to build the future Major League Soccer stadium in Miami will go to the polls for the first time in November. On Wednesday, Miami commissioners voted to hold a referendum that will ask voters in November whether the City should negotiate a contract without bidding with David Beckham's group, which would allow the construction of a shopping complex and a soccer stadium at Melreese Country Club, the only municipal golf course in the city.

The key vote culminated a controversial week over the preliminary details of the vote, which highlighted the level of mistrust associated with other stadium agreements in Miami.

Commissioner Ken Russell, considered the deciding vote on the five-member commission and the reason why last week's vote was postponed until yesterday, voted to send the issue to voters after receiving some verbal and administrative concessions and others in writing that he had demanded from Beckham's group.

Commissioners Manolo Reyes and Willy Gort did not give their approval in the vote of 3 to 2. "I had resigned myself to voting no," Russell said during the break, describing his feelings after an evening meeting with Jorge Mas, co-owner with David Beckham and MasTec executive, which concluded hours before Wednesday morning's meeting. "All the issues for which I demanded concessions were issues that the residents had brought me."

After the evening meeting highlights a minimum wage of 15 dollars an hour for all employees at Miami Freedom Park, the proposed stadium and commercial complex that would replace Melreese.

Mas offered a verbal concession, with a warning. He promised to pay all the employees of the property a worthy wage, including the maintenance staff, gardeners, stadium workers, etc. He also agreed to demand a good wage from the tenants who would lease the commercial space of the complex, although he would start with a salary of 11 in the first year and increase annually to 15.

After Mas's comments, Russell said he would vote yes for the referendum to be held. During much of the meeting in the morning, Reyes was the biggest critic of the proposal, specifically the process that the City has followed to put the referendum on the ballot.

"We are bypassing our own statutes, our own laws," he told the commissioners, hours after the City received a complaint from a lawyer who accused them of precisely doing so.

The intense skepticism and outright opposition have largely revolved around the hasty process of presenting the plan to the public in recent weeks. Jorge Mas shared few details a few days of the scheduled votes, and City officials did not demand many details during that time.

Even before the vote on Wednesday, the City published new terms at the end of Tuesday afternoon, and full documentation of the agenda for Wednesday's meeting was posted online at night.

Russell emphasized that his vote only supports sending the question to voters, adding that residents should not stop investigating. He hopes that more details of the plan before the November vote will be published that address the concerns of voters.

"They should be skeptical, I still am," he said. "We have a history of bad agreements in Miami." If the referendum is approved in November, the City Commission would still have to approve a lease without bidding with the Beckham group with a majority vote, which means four of the five commissioners.