When soccer legend David Beckham and his billionaire partners came to Fort Lauderdale, they promised to build a sprawling park next to a fancy new soccer stadium where superstar Lionel Messi now plays.
The $170 million stadium got built in record time, but the $31.8 million park — which under the original agreement was to be built by July 2022 — has yet to break ground.
Now there’s talk of delaying the park’s groundbreaking until 2026 to give Inter Miami fans a place to park until the team’s new stadium opens in Miami. That means the park might not open until 2028.
The mere thought is giving Commissioner John Herbst heartburn.
One day, the park will be built on the grassy 20 acres of city-owned land that sits south of DRV PNK Stadium. But right now, the team is using that land for overflow parking.
Herbst, whose district includes the stadium, suggested the city delay the park’s groundbreaking until January 2025 so the team can keep on using what is known as the “yellow lot” for parking through next year’s season. But after that, Herbst says he wants to get the ball rolling.
“My district has been waiting patiently, sometimes not so patiently, for a park,” he told the commission on Tuesday. “This park is extremely important to my residents and my district. Please, please, I implore you, don’t delay this any longer.”
But it’s not all up to Herbst.
If the majority of the commission agrees, the park will have to wait.
The commission will eventually vote on the matter, but not likely until a year from now, Mayor Dean Trantalis told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
“We’re looking to be able to accommodate the fans and the Inter Miami team for the next two seasons, 2024 and 2025,” Trantalis said Wednesday. “And I think we can synchronize our timetables for construction and continue to provide a home for Inter Miami. We will probably revisit the situation a year from now. We’ll have a better idea of the timetable for design and construction.”
Park already overdue
AECOM, the firm hired by the city to develop a design plan and cost estimate for the park, says the project might be ready to break ground as soon as October 2024. The design will take another year to complete.
The park will cost an estimated $31.8 million to build, with Miami Beckham United contributing $19.1 million and the city paying $12.7 million.
Fort Lauderdale taxpayers would pick up the tab for 16 pickleball courts that will cost nearly $4 million. Other amenities on the city’s tab include a $4 million community center, a $1.3 million splash pad area and a $640,000 fitness station.
Beckham United would pay for the $1.9 million playground, a $1.4 million dog park, $2.7 million in sidewalks, $5.7 million in park amenities, a $1.8 million multi-purpose playing field and a $1 million paved parking lot.
Last year, Fort Lauderdale commissioners told the team’s owners they had until July 2023 to get the park built. That deadline came and went.
Earlier this year, the city entered into mediation talks with Beckham United to iron out several disagreements, including a dispute over who should pick up the $6 million tab for demolition costs. Herbst, a CPA and financial expert in governmental accounting, has been representing the city in those behind-the-scenes talks.
On Tuesday, Herbst told the commission it makes more sense to start construction on the park in January 2025 so it doesn’t interfere with the team’s 2024 season.
“I’m trying to find a middle ground where we can work together in a spirit of collaboration,” he told the Sun Sentinel on Wednesday.
Park can wait
But Commissioner Steve Glassman says a 2025 groundbreaking is out of the question. He wants it delayed to 2026 to help ease Inter Miami’s parking woes.
“It’s quite clear that having a construction site during the 2025 season would not be feasible,” Glassman said Wednesday. “In a perfect world, it would be great if the park were already completed and people were enjoying it. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Circumstances change. And we’ve waited so long for a park, we can wait another 12 months.”
Herbst says he is fiercely opposed to any further delay.
“Our police department got delayed for two years, and the price increased from $100 million to $140 million,” Herbst said. “If we delay the park, who’s going to cover the cost of that price increase? I don’t think Inter Miami is going to cover that. And construction costs are increasing astronomically. Any more delay is costing us millions of dollars.”
Messi fueling demand
Stephanie Toothaker, lobbyist for Inter Miami, told commissioners the team’s owners expect Miami Freedom Park to open at the end of 2025.
And right now, the team needs all the parking it can get to accommodate all the fans who want to see Messi work his magic on the field.
“What we’ve seen is the demand has skyrocketed to numbers that we could have never contemplated, that nobody could have ever contemplated,” Toothaker said. “It is difficult to park at the stadium when Messi plays.”
Herbst says he is well aware of the parking crunch — but it’s not his problem.
“I agree they are in a parking crunch, but it’s a problem of their own making,” he said. “It’s not up to me to solve their parking problems. At the end of the day, I don’t represent Miami Beckham. I represent my residents.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow me on X @Susannah_Bryan