With Public Mandate, Miami Freedom Park Navigates Politics

As Commissioner Reyes Continues Crusade Against Miami Freedom Park, Ignoring Clear Mandate From The Electorate, Commissioner Carollo mounts his own attempt to derail the project.

Contentious City Commission Meeting Awaits.

MIAMI, Fla. (October 18, 2019) —

Miami Freedom Park faces yet more challenges and potential derailments, as the City of Miami Commission prepares for a contentious meeting on October 24, 2019 at Miami City Hall.

Miami Freedom Park & Soccer Village, the collective name for the project, will be built using entirely private funds and not city tax dollars, and will create one of Miami’s largest public parks at 58 acres. Approximately 73 acres will be used for a soccer stadium for Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami, soccer fields for the community, a tech hub, hotel, restaurant, retail and entertainment spaces. The $1 billion dollar project that stands to bring millions in revenue for the city, state, county and school board. The city-owned land, currently occupied by Melreese Country Club, will be leased by the city for a term, which, with options, could reach 99 years, with Miami Freedom Park, LLC making annual lease payments of no less than $3.5 million (based on a third-party fair-market-value appraisal). They will also pay the full cost of the environmental remediation of the property, which is estimated to be in the millions of dollars and will provide a living wage salary of no less than $15/hour for employees working on the property.

Miami Freedom Park promotional video by Miami Freedom Park, LLC

In a referendum placed on the ballot in accordance with the City Charter (29B), and subsequently passed by voters on November 6, 2018, the City of Miami is allowed to waive competitive bidding and enter into negotiations for the lease of the city-owned land at the Melreese site. It should be pointed out that the referendum passed in all five City of Miami commission districts. (The referendum was only open to City of Miami voters and not all Miami-Dade County voters, due to the fact that the land is entirely within the City boundaries.)

The debate over the project may climax on October 24, when city commissioners consider a lease that would allow the redevelopment project to move forward. However, City Manager Emilio Gonzalez says that lease is not ready to be voted on, due to the fact that appraisals requested by the city commissioners are not complete, nor are additional items requested, such as traffic study and total remediation costs for the heavily-contaminated golf course.

City Commissioner Manolo Reyes accused the Beckham group of “game playing” to try to stall a vote until after elections are held in November (Commissioner Gort, another opponent of the project, will be out of office due to term limits). However, the travel of this matter does not substantiate such a claim. In fact, Miami Freedom Park delivered a lease to the City, as promised, on June 5, 2019.

At the most recent commission meeting on October 10, 2019, a meeting where Miami Freedom Park was not even on the agenda, Mayor Francis Suarez reminded Commissioner Reyes and the rest of the commission that they took months to select the two law firms that are negotiating on behalf of the city. Suarez further pointed out that the commission chose to weigh in on the process for selecting firms to conduct outside studies that would form the basis of negotiations, decisions that took time over the summer. Thus, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the contract is not ready to vote on and is not likely going to be ready for the city commissioners to consider before the November election.

“This commission mandated that there be three outside studies done: environmental, traffic report and an appraisal,” Suarez said. “None of those are completed, and they will not be completed by tomorrow (Oct 11),” referring to the deadline to have items submitted for the next commission meeting on October 24.

The city commissioners, at a May 23 commission meeting, had an intense debate on which of 16 law firms who had applied would be selected as consultants. After listening to lawyers from several firms, and continued contention from Commissioner Reyes who was adamant that the chosen firm have nothing to do with Cuba, they voted to have City Attorney Victoria Mendez pick from three firms. Reyes voted no at that meeting. The City eventually settled on Shutts & Bowenn, LLP to assist in the negotiations, on June 17, 2019.

The fact that Commissioner Reyes continues to wage war on Miami Freedom Park comes as no surprise. He has vehemently opposed the project since the first day it was on the agenda at city hall. He has argued that the city didn’t follow “the process.” He has argued that there was no transparency. He has gone on radio talk shows to dismiss the project. Now, he has sponsored the following resolution to try to force a vote on a lease which is not ready:

Commissioner Reyes addresses David Beckham on July 12, 2018 at Miami City Hall. Photo: Kenneth Russo

The most recent city commission meeting on October 10, 2019 was yet another display of political division among Miami’s elected leaders. Two commissioners separately demanded an October 24 vote on the lease agreement, despite it not being ready. Commissioner Joe Carollo, one of Suarez’s political foes, also wants to vote on a resolution that would require the city to suspend all negotiations with Miami Freedom Park and authorise a request for proposals (“RFP”) to redevelop most of Melreese, which bids, per the terms of the resolution, would need to include a “luxury hotel and golf resort.” The meeting ended in a shouting match.

Resolution proposed by Commissioner Carollo

In response to these attacks on the Miami Freedom Park plan, Mayor Francis Suarez, a proponent, said he is ready to use his “veto pen” if the commission votes on a deal he feels isn’t ready. Suarez’s veto could only be overridden by the city commission with four out of five votes. It’s also worth mentioning that the referendum approved by voters does not contain any deadline by which a vote on the project must occur.

Commissioner Russell’s chief concern with this project is green space, and he has made it clear that any green space lost by the conversion of Melreese must be made up acre-for-acre. “If this deal yields the loss of one acre of green space in the city of Miami, I will vote no,” he said. Given that Miami has less green space and less public spaces in general than practically any large city in the United States, and lacks a grand park like more famous world-class cities, his argument has merit. The city has a law that requires parkland that is rezoned to be replaced, so there is no net loss to the city. Miami Freedom Park has always been on-board with the replacing of any lost green space. It was even part of a term sheet signed last summer. Moreover, in conjunction with the lease agreement submitted to the City of Miami, Miami Freedom Park has also delivered a Community Benefits Agreement, honouring its vow to gift $5 million for the City’s Riverwalk/Baywalk project, $20 million for park maintenance and free access to the soccer fields at Miami Freedom Park for City of Miami youth. Details of these agreements are available on the Miami Freedom Park website.

Inter Miami CF and Miami Freedom Park have also honoured their commitment to finalise an agreement with the First Tee program, ensuring the organisation will continue to serve children at a new location.

Managing Owner Jorge Mas has always remained positive. “Miami Freedom Park is working diligently to finalise a lease agreement with the city of Miami,” Mas said. “Sixty percent of city of Miami residents, an overwhelming majority, voted to amend the city charter and authorised the city to negotiate with Miami Freedom Park; we remain focused on fulfilling that voter mandate. We invite residents to visit our website to learn more and share their input.”

What lies ahead for this ambitious plan? We will know more shortly. Maybe. The project has made it this far, it has won an election that many said was impossible. Representatives of Miami Freedom Park have held countless sessions across the city in recent months that have been open to the public, in order to answer questions, educate, and hear residents’ concerns.

There is every reason to believe it will cross the finish line.

Miami Freedom Park Renderings : Inter Miami CF

Published by

Ken Russo

My work combines skills acquired through years of law practice with the business, communications and team operations side of the soccer. I am a graduate of McGill University in Montreal, the University of Miami School of Law and the holder of a certificate in sports business from Columbia University. Um advogado por formação, concentro meu trabalho nos negócios, comunicações e operações de equipes no futebol mundial. | Abogado con fundación avanzada en comunicaciones, enfocado en los negocios del fútbol y las comunicaciones. | Je suis un avocat experimenté dans les communications et les affaires du sector de football.

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