MIAMI (AP) — David Beckham is a big step closer to bringing Major League Soccer back to Miami.
In a 9-4 vote Tuesday, Miami-Dade County commissioners decided to allow Miami Beckham United to buy three acres of county land, the final piece in a nine-acre plot on which a 25,000-seat soccer stadium is planned. It's a big win for the English soccer icon, who has spent four years — and counting — trying to bring Miami an expansion MLS franchise.
"Miami is ready," said Tim Leiweke, one of the partners in Beckham's group. "We are committed. And the city and the county have now taken the necessary steps for us to control our own destiny for a privately financed, world-class soccer stadium for Major League Soccer."
Beckham's group will pay just over $9 million for the three-acre plot. It has already paid $19 million for the other six acres needed, and Leiweke said he's hopeful a team could start playing in the stadium in 2020.
"Now is the time for MLS to move forward in helping us deliver the soccer club that Miami has been waiting for," Beckham's group said in a statement after the vote.
Tuesday's vote was a major step, though hardly the clinching one.
There's zoning issues with the city to deal with, some members of the ownership group who will fund the estimated $220 million in construction costs have not been revealed yet — and MLS still has not awarded Miami an expansion franchise. A contract he signed in 2007 with the Los Angeles Galaxy gave Beckham the right to start an expansion franchise for $25 million, and in 2013 he picked Miami as where he would want to put a team.
Now that he has the land, the process of actually getting the franchise should pick up considerable speed.
MLS officials will be in Miami on Wednesday to tour the planned site, and the league said it was pleased to see county commissioners ratify Mayor Carlos Gimenez's recommendation to allow the sale.
"The process was lengthy, difficult, but necessary in order to ensure that Miami-Dade County taxpayers were properly compensated," Gimenez said.
The vote was preceded by several members of the community urging commissioners to vote no, mostly citing noise and traffic concerns. A few supporters spoke as well, and many commissioners noted that the county will receive property tax revenue off the site going forward.
"This land has been an eyesore for years. ... Something needs to be done with it, now," said Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, who represents the Overtown neighborhood where the stadium is planned.
There have been many hurdles in this process, in part because Beckham — who was not present Tuesday — was unable to get waterfront land that his group first coveted for a stadium site.
"He will be a happy man today," Leiweke said.
But the biggest issue may have had nothing to do with Beckham, or how MLS failed in South Florida once before.
The taxpayer-backed arrangement that gave the Miami Marlins a new ballpark on the site of the former Orange Bowl is still very much a contentious issue in Miami. This deal, commissioners said, isn't perfect either.
"As far as sports deals go with the county, this one isn't so bad," Commissioner Joe Martinez said.
Beckham is not the only huge global soccer name pursuing MLS expansion these days; Landon Donovan, his former Galaxy teammate, has joined the ownership group that is hoping to bring a team to San Diego.
The victory for Beckham came just one day after San Diego's City Council decided not to finance a special election that would have brought plans of building a new soccer complex there to a vote. Donovan says he will continue trying to get a team there.
Leiweke sees a parallel; Beckham has unquestionably dealt with Marlins' deal fallout over the last few years, and Donovan's quest is likely hurting in part from how the NFL's Chargers just left San Diego.
"Let's be honest here: Much of what we're going through and much of the distrust ... is the Marlins," Leiweke said. "We're not the Marlins. We're in this long-term with a philosophy on being great and having a great stadium and a great team."