David Beckham will this week find out whether Miami’s residents will be allowed to vote on his long-awaited proposal to found a football team in Florida.
Beckham, 43, made his first ever appearance before city officials on Thursday, and presented his idea to the Miami city commission, who will now vote on whether to put it to a referendum on Wednesday.
But the former England captain was greeted not with the adoration he usually inspires, but instead with stony faces.
“This is one of the few times I’ve walked into a room and people have not smiled at me,” he admitted to those gathered, in an attempt to melt the frost.
“It’s not a nice feeling. We’re good people. We’re trying to do the right thing.”
At stake is Beckham’s post-playing future, and the dream of forming a football team in Florida – a dream first announced in 2014.
At the time, a year after the footballing star’s retirement, it was greeted with jubilation. Amid a frenzy of speculation, it took less than a week for Cristiano Ronaldo to be connected to Beckham’s Miami team. Multiple media sources reported that Beckham and his team had targeted the Portuguese star for a move to Miami in "three years’ time".
Had that been true, there would not have even been a stadium built by the time he arrived.
Beckham has since been seemingly thwarted at every turn, with four proposed sites for his proposed team falling by the wayside.
The first, in the Port of Miami, was killed by cruise ship interests. A waterfront plot in Museum Park was turned down by the city commissioners. A Little Havana plot near Marlins Park – the home of the city’s baseball team – was felled by Miami’s hatred for the Marlins Park venue.
In January he announced he had finally found his site, in the Overtown district. But the area, described by the Miami Herald in December 2016 as “ground zero” for the city’s opioid crisis, was soon deemed unsuitable.
On Thursday, with his deep-pocketed business partner Jorge Mas beside him, he unveiled his fifth plan – a $1 billion (£760m) project to be called Miami Freedom Park, involving the leasing and redevelopment of the city-owned Melreese golf course near Miami International Airport. The plan would include the construction of a 25,000-seat stadium, plus restaurant and retail space, office buildings, hotels, athletic fields and a public park.
In addition to the privately-funded construction, Beckham’s group would also pay $4-5 million in annual rent for the 73 acres of land, as well as state, county, city and school board taxes, reaching an estimated total of $44 million.
His presence in the city on Thursday was celebrated by football fans, with hundreds trying to pour into the city commission meeting. But it was lamented by golf aficionados, deeply concerned at the loss of the city’s only public course.
Even sports stars turned against Beckham.
Ray Allen, a former star of the basketball team Miami Heat, urged people to sign a petition against Beckham’s plan, arguing that it will mean the end of the city’s First Tee youth golf programme.
“Melreese has an awesome First Tee program that is ran out of this course that really teaches young children the game of golf and gives them a public place to play,” he said.
“Not to mention all the great tournaments and events the course hosts. If you’re familiar with Miami at all, there aren’t too many public courses for our kids to play at.”
Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, a former Major League Baseball pitcher, donned the orange First Tee polo shirts worn by protesters, and said he volunteers for the programme.
The agonising wait for Beckham was prolonged by Ken Russell, chairman of the commission, a man who was perceived as the swing vote among the deeply divided group. He criticised the Beckham group for not conducting any outreach in the neighbourhood immediately east of Melreese. He then sought verbal assurances from them on issues from the replacement of lost park space, to the question of who would pay for cleaning up contaminated soil.
He also wanted assurances that workers on the project would be paid a living wage.
“We can continue to negotiate,” said Mr Russell. “But I’m not ready tonight.”
A new hearing was set for 10am on Wednesday.
Francis Suarez, the mayor of Miami who has spoken passionately in favour of the referendum, expressed his frustration with the commission’s decision to defer the vote.
“I really wish they would’ve made a decision tonight,” he said, in comments surely echoing Beckham’s own thoughts. “So then we could have moved to the next phase.”
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