Beckham's Inter Miami take next step in stadium project

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The Miami Freedom Park stadium project for David Beckham's Inter Miami has entered a new phase, with the MLS side submitting a rezoning plan to the City of Miami that would allow the club to develop on the site of what is now Melreese golf course.

"With the goal of following through on the will of Miami voters, we are submitting the Miami Freedom Park zoning application so it can be reviewed as we continue to advance lease agreement negotiations," said Jorge Mas, managing owner of the club, in a statement to ESPN.

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"This parallel path will allow us to more quickly bring the creation of one of the city's largest public parks, the future home stadium of our Major League Soccer team, more than 15,000 jobs, and contributions of $42.7 million in annual tax revenue, all at no cost to City taxpayers."

Because the project is larger than nine acres, the process consists of what's called a Special Area Plan (SAP). The SAP, if approved, would allow Inter Miami to develop the 131-acre site on which the golf course sits. In addition to a 25,000-seat stadium, the project calls for the creation of a 58-acre park, office space, a hotel and a mall.

The rezoning process can take upwards of a year to complete. A team spokesperson said that the plan is for the SAP -- along with negotiations for a 99-year lease -- to come before the city commission some time this fall.

Miami voters approved the development project back in November of 2018, which appeared to clear the way for the team to build a stadium in the city of Miami. But the club has run into some opposition at city commission level.

The SAP includes 131 acres of environmental remediation at no cost to the city, and proposes $3.5m in annual lease payments to the City of Miami.

A city law often referred to as "no net loss" states any parkland lost to development must be replaced elsewhere in the city. The SAP calls for 20.9 acres of parkland to be developed. Inter Miami and the City of Miami have identified an equal amount of "vacant, abandoned, and underutilized City land" in the city to be converted into parks. That Inter Miami is using existing city-owned land -- instead of purchasing the land itself -- to satisfy the "no net loss" provision is one that is already drawing criticism from city commissioner Manolo Reyes, a long-time opponent of the project.

Reyes said the way Inter Miami is addressing the no net loss issue is: "a total farce. This is not the commitment that [Inter Miami] made when they came before us. And this totally betrays the principle of no net loss."

While they waited for the Melreese site, Inter Miami built a 20,450-seat stadium in Ft. Lauderdale on the site of the old Lockhart Stadium. The team, whose season has been shut down since March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic, is expected to play in that venue -- now known as Inter Miami CF Stadium -- for a minimum of two seasons.