Friday , 24 October 2014
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My changing views on a PortMiami soccer stadium

My friends are asking me “why no column on Beckham’s proposed soccer stadium on the port?” I tell them “…because I’m not sure what I think.” It was a nobrainer on the Marlins stadium. Taxpayers of Miami paid for the ballpark. We own it, but the Marlins receive all the income. Our elected officials were suckered into that one bad, bad deal!

Not so with the proposed soccer stadium. David Beckham and his group will pay for the stadium estimated at $250 million. All they are asking for is the site and a tax break from the state that will generate millions for the team owners. The concept makes sense although I hate to think about giving up all that tax revenue when we have so many needs that the state and the country do not have the money to cover.

We all know the big debate is over the location. Beckham has looked at a long list of potential sites. Their choice, obviously, is on the southwest corner of PortMiami. A stone’s throw across the water from downtown Miami and the AmericanAirlines Arena. One of the two problems, as I see it, is the water. Not too many ways to get from the mainland to the island — one carbridge, one train-bridge and one tunnel.

We are spending over a billion dollars to build a tunnel under the ship channel to keep the trucks entering and exiting the port from tying up traffic on Biscayne Boulevard, giving fast access to the expressway. We are restricting train travel to and from the port to late at night runs for the same reason. The intent is correct. There’s too much traffic in one congested area — the entry area to the port.

Now we are visualizing 25,000 soccer fans plus several hundred stadium workers entering and exiting the port for each game. No problem Mr. Beckham said. “Most games are on Wednesday and Saturday so it won’t conflict with local traffic.”

Add their traffic to the anticipated increase in traffic once the channel is deepened and the giant ships coming through the Panama Canal from Asia start unloading in Miami plus the traffic generated from Miami Heat fans and we have one colossal gigantic traffic jam. How about the traffic going and coming from the cruise ships? Oh, and don’t forget we are still building more 30- and 40-story high-rise condos within blocks of that traffic jam. The other argument: Shouldn’t the port be for port activity?

The port authority suggests that the site coveted by Beckham is intended for office building and commercial, port-related buildings. Beckham’s people say that will never be needed. “Cruise ships can’t anchor there as the water isn’t deep enough. It’s on the wrong side of the island, etc., etc., etc.”

Let me tell you, when I moved to Miami in the 1940s a major port wasn’t even a dream. We have no idea what the port will need a few years from now. But for sure it will not need a soccer stadium. I can’t visualize, in my wildest dreams anyone taking a three-day cruise from Miami to see a soccer game.

Lastly, PortMiami is facing financial problems. Moody’s, the bond-rating agency, has downgraded the port’s bond rating which makes its cost of borrowing more expensive. What will happen if the soccer stadium is built and attendance is so low that it goes out of business? How much will it cost the port authority to pull down a 25,000-seat stadium and related buildings to build more facilities to support port activity?

And don’t think that cannot happen. Just ask the Miami Marlins about attendance. Some 5,000 fans attending a Miami- Kansas City soccer game on a Wednesday evening will not keep a franchise in town. Manchester United will not be in Miami every week.

Think this through carefully Mr. Mayor and commissioners. We are looking at one valuable piece of land.

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