Developers of Miami Freedom Park say they don’t plan to build a 40,000-seat stadium that could accommodate University of Miami Hurricanes football games and also don’t want to pay a nearly $20 million fee to fund public art.
New details of the plan to build a $1.3 billion commercial and soccer stadium complex next to Miami International Airport were highlighted this week as the team won approval from the city of Miami’s Planning and Zoning Appeals Board, a citizen advisory panel that makes recommendations on certain real estate developments.
During the hours-long hearing Wednesday evening, it became clear that owners want to build a 25,000-seat stadium and do not plan to pursue a larger venue, as was requested by Commissioner Joe Carollo when the commission in April approved a 99-year lease for the project.
“I can tell you that there are significant impediments to that,” said Richard Perez, a Holland & Knight attorney representing Inter Miami. “First of all, the height here is limited by the [Federal Aviation Administration]. It’s very hard. The only way to bring more seats into this is to make it taller.”
The team owners would have to “go back to the drawing board” to make the venue larger because otherwise it would require a wider stadium, which would impact the other commercial sections of the development and alter several other parts of the zoning plan — a process owners don’t want to pursue because they want to start hosting home games in 2025.
The recent announcement that Miami will host 2026 World Cup games has also given Inter Miami owners new urgency because they hope to host satellite events at Miami Freedom Park.
“The World Cup coming here in 2026 really puts rocket fuel in this project in terms of timing,” Perez said.
The lease documents have still not been signed months after the April vote approving the proposal because lawyers are going back and forth on putting commissioners’ demands in the final contract. The city is also still waiting for a final appraisal that could increase the annual rent amount.
The owners of Inter Miami, including David Beckham and businessmen Jorge and Jose Mas, want to replace Melreese golf course with a stadium to host the Major League Soccer franchise’s home games in a complex that will include a hotel, retail shops and office park. The plans also include a 58-acre public park and playing fields on the roof of a three-story parking garage.
As part of Miami Freedom Park’s rezoning plan, the team owners are asking to be exempt from a city policy that requires developers of private projects on public land to pay 1.5% of the development’s cost into a fund that pays for public art installations. Under the city’s policy, Miami Freedom Park would owe $19.5 million.
Board members also raised questions about the plan to replace rezoned park land with other parcels spread out across the city, revealing that it is unknown if any of the new park space would require costly environmental cleanup.
With some apprehension, the board recommended approval of the “special area plan” (SAP), a zoning procedure that allows private developers to build bigger, denser projects in exchange for public benefits provided by the developers. The board’s approval paves the way for the City Commission to consider the rezoning plan on July 28.
Some board members were skeptical about Miami Freedom Park’s potential for economic success.
“I don’t think it’s going to do great,” said board member Alex Dominguez. “But I don’t want to prevent MLS soccer from coming to Miami. That to me is a net benefit versus voting no. But I will say one thing: I hope I’m wrong.”
The team’s lawyers argued that the the plan will already provide other substantial public benefits at the developers’ cost, including new tax revenue, cleanup of contaminated land, construction of a park, $20 million for the city’s park system and $5 million for the long-stalled Baywalk/Riverwalk project.
Iris Escarra, a land use attorney with Greenberg Traurig representing the soccer team, said the team plans to commission and display public art at Miami Freedom Park, but owners just don’t want to be held to the city’s requirement.
“We are going to be doing art,” she told the board. “It’s just not to the 1.5% magnitude.”
The chairman of the city’s Art in Public Places board, attorney Francisco Herretes, asked the planning board to recommend the city enforce its policy, which he said “was created exactly for the purpose of a case like Miami Freedom Park” — a major development with the potential to yield a significant contribution to public art.
Adam Gersten, planning board member and owner of Wynwood bar Gramps, said he understood the need for a minimum requirement but also a ceiling makes sense, arguing that the market in Miami essentially forces developers to include public art in their projects.
Gersten and other board members also raised questions about a plan to replace park land that would be rezoned to build the commercial section of Miami Freedom Park. About 23 acres of upzoned park land would need to be replaced, a requirement under city policy. Inter Miami and the city have presented a plan to take five city-owned properties and formally rezone them as park space.
The locations are:
▪ 2735 NW 10th Ave.
▪ 150 NW 19th St.
▪ 1950 NW 12th Ave.
▪ 1680 NW Fifth St.
▪ 3851 Rickenbacker Causeway, Virginia Key
Board member Andy Parrish asked city staffers if there is a plan to cover costs for remediation for any of these properties if they are polluted, to which no one had an answer. Board Chairman Charles Garavaglia was critical of the park replacement plan, and he voted against recommending it.
“All you’ve done is convert existing city property to parks, with no plan to remediate,” Garavaglia said.
The board recommended approval for all but one of the park replacement locations. The land at 150 NW 19th St., which is directly north of the Miami City Cemetery, did not pass.
The City Commission has the final say on the SAP and park replacement plans. Commissioners will consider the plans for the first time July 28, and a second vote would be required at a later date for final approval.