MIAMI, United States, Feb 2 – David Beckham has finally achieved his goal of bringing Major League Soccer to Miami, but the prospect of a stadium without parking that drives up housing costs in a low-income neighborhood is no hit with residents.
The former England captain and glitzy star of storied Champions League teams was formally awarded an MLS franchise on Monday, but key details remain up in the air, such as its name and logo and when it will debut.
For the 25,000-stadium, the investor group led by Beckham has acquired land in an area called Overtown, a working class district between downtown and Little Havana.
They still need to buy one more piece of land, but for now the deal is held up in court by a lawsuit. The investors are confident they will prevail.
“Our 24th team now is in Miami. The stadium is in the Overtown site,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said.
One problem is that Miami is already choked with traffic and the stadium will not have its own parking lots.
And people in the neighborhood fear housing costs that are already rising will force them to move away as they keep going up.
“We are largely overwhelmed by the larger forces in the community that are out there. Our voices are not being heard sufficiently,” said Ernest Martin, a member of the Miami River Commission, an association of people living near the waterway.
Martin was especially critical of the lack of parking.
But Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Monday that although the stadium itself will have no on-site parking, there are plenty of big lots two to three blocks from the planned arena.
He also pointed to public transport, but people in Miami love their cars.
The problem of rising housing costs comes with gentrification. Overtown is a black-majority neighborhood of some 13,000 people, and 24 percent of the residents earn less than $10,000 a year, well below the poverty level.
– Worried about rent –
“This has been a low-income housing area for many years,” Martin told AFP at his home along the river.
“Ultimately the big increase in rent for the area will cause Overtown to become a more select area for residential users,” he added.
The barren lot of land where the stadium is supposed to go up is surrounded by a fence on which neighbors have hung a sign that reads, “No to the stadium.”
Nearby are modest apartment buildings and a few shops. At a corner liquor store, the cashier tends to customers from behind bullet proof glass. The storefront is protected by iron bars.
Douglas Romero, a 27-year-old resident of Overtown, told AFP that this year his rent has already gone from $1,050 a month to $1,200.
“I’m a little worried, you know,” Romero said, holding his four year old son.
“The prices of rent have been going up lately, starting in January. The only thing would be, if prices go up, you know, everybody looks to move. Everybody looks for somewhere else.”
– Second time lucky? –
It isn’t even the city’s first tryst with MLS.
Its first team, Miami Fusion, made their debut in 1998 but only played for four seasons before being cut from the league after the 2001 campaign amid low ticket sales and the lowest revenues of any team in the competition.
Football in America is nowhere near as popular as baseball, basketball or American football. But Beckham and his fellow investors are counting on the cultural diversity of Miami — with its large Hispanic and Caribbean populations — to attract fans.
And not all in the neighborhood are against the newcomers: “Him bringing the stadium here… it’s wonderful,” said Cedric Dixon, 52. “It’s excitement. It’s changing Miami.”
Landscaper Williams Charlie is meanwhile skeptical that the new stadium can bring jobs, but says “we need a soccer team” nonetheless.
“Beckham knows what he’s doing. I’ll go right to the game — if they don’t move us out.”
One sign of how deeply opposed some are is the emergence of a Facebook group against the stadium which publishes scary videos of football-related violence as a way of warning against the dangers of hooligans.
“It’s not a done deal!” is the slogan of the Overtown Spring Garden Community Collective.
This is true: the proposed sale of the last piece of land needed is being held up by a millionaire named Bruce Matheson, who argues that the county had no right to cede the first lot without opening it up to bidding.
He lost his first battle in court but has lodged an appeal.
Mayor Gimenez meanwhile remains bullish. “We are very confident that we are going to win the lawsuit,” he told reporters.