Beckham’s team to play two sea­sons in Fort Laud­erdale

Deal to re­vive Lock­hart Sta­dium pend­ing city ap­proval

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Brit­tany Wall­man South Florida Sun Sen­tinel

FORT LAUD­ERDALE – David Beckham’s In­ter Mi­ami CF Ma­jor League Soc­cer team will play its first two sea­sons in Fort Laud­erdale, if city com­mis­sion­ers agree, the soc­cer leg­end an­nounced Thurs­day.

Stand­ing in the city’s Lock­hart Sta­dium, whose field is over­grown with brush and weeds, Beckham and Jorge Mas said they hope to win the Fort Laud­erdale deal Tues­day to re­vive the sta­dium’s rich soc­cer his­tory. Their new ma­jor league team would play in Fort Laud­erdale for the 2020 and 2021 sea­sons, in a new sta­dium that would re­place the 1950s Lock­hart.

“You can never repli­cate hav­ing a first sea­son,” Beckham said. “So, this is where it’s go­ing to be.”

“This should be the epi­cen­ter of soc­cer,” Mas said, call­ing Lock­hart a “his­toric” sta­dium that “has al­ways been the home of pro­fes­sional soc­cer in South Florida.”

Mi­ami Beckham United — a part­ner­ship that in­cludes Beckham and Mas, a prom­i­nent South Florida busi­ness­man — is com­pet­ing against ri­val bid­der FXE Fut­bol to win a 50-year agree­ment to re­vive the once-lively Lock­hart Sta­dium/Fort Laud­erdale Sta­dium prop­erty in north­ern Fort Laud­erdale, north of Com­mer­cial Boule­vard and west of In­ter­state 95.

Fort Laud­erdale com­mis­sion­ers are sched­uled to

eval­u­ate the two pro­pos­als Tues­day in City Hall, 100 N. Andrews Ave., at their 1:30 p.m. con­fer­ence meet­ing. The meet­ing would have been held be­hind closed doors, un­der the rules for an un­so­licited bids, but both pro­posers waived that so de­lib­er­a­tions could be held in pub­lic.

City of­fi­cials have been care­ful not to pub­licly fa­vor ei­ther deal, re­peat­edly say­ing that green space and pub­lic ac­cess for youth sports would be key fac­tors. City ac­tivist Mary Fer­tig sent a mass email Thurs­day urg­ing res­i­dents to in­sist that which­ever pro­posal is cho­sen al­low the sta­dium and soc­cer fields to be used up to 50 days a year by lo­cal teams, for games like the foot­ball Soul Bowl be­tween Dil­lard High School and Blanche Ely High School.

“We need ev­ery­one’s help to ad­vo­cate that any lease or pro­posal in­clude pro­vi­sions for parks, ath­letic re­sources and fu­ture green space that are avail­able for our city and schools to use,” the in­flu­en­tial ac­tivist said in her email.

Beckham’s an­nounce­ment Tues­day comes as he ex­pe­ri­ences de­lays se­cur­ing ap­provals for In­ter Mi­ami’s per­ma­nent home in Mi­ami-Dade, at Mi­ami Free­dom Park. Mi­ami vot­ers in Novem­ber agreed the city could ne­go­ti­ate with him for a sta­dium on 74 acres near Mi­ami In­ter­na­tional Air­port — at the site of the city-owned Mel­reese Coun­try Club golf course.

Tues­day’s news con­fer­ence was the first time Beckham ap­peared pub­licly to dis­cuss his Lock­hart plans, at­tract­ing a scrum of me­dia and in­fus­ing a lit­tle star power to the fight just be­fore a po­ten­tial city de­ci­sion.

JP Rey­nal, CEO of On­Side En­ter­tain­ment soc­cer com­pany and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of FXE Fut­bol, crit­i­cized his ri­val for us­ing “star-stud­ded glitz” to woo Fort Laud­erdale into a deal while he works things out in Mi­ami.

“They’re of­fer­ing Fort Laud­erdale two years of [Ma­jor League Soc­cer] and 48 years of noth­ing,” he said, “whereas we’re of­fer­ing Fort Laud­erdale a pro­fes­sional fran­chise of their own for the next half cen­tury.”

FXE Fut­bol has a com­mer­cial com­plex in its pro­posal, with shops, restau­rants and a Top­golf at­trac­tion — or some­thing sim­i­lar — plus sports fields, and a jog­ging path­way. FXE would ren­o­vate Lock­hart Sta­dium, and it would be the home field for a new, sec­ond-tier USL Cham­pi­onship soc­cer team.

Beckham said his com­mit­ment is long term.

Beckham-Mi­ami would tear down Lock­hart Sta­dium and re­place it with a $30 mil­lion, 18,000-seat, canopied sta­dium ori­ented north-south. In­ter Mi­ami CF’s ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fices would be housed there. And the 64-acre pub­lic prop­erty would be home base for a youth soc­cer acad­emy for 160 to 200 young men, Mas said. For the pub­lic, four “pitch” fields — a reg­u­la­tion size soc­cer field that can be used for other sports — would be cre­ated, as well as a dog park, a run­ning trail, play­ground and pub­lic park. The es­ti­mated in­vest­ment: $50 mil­lion to $60 mil­lion.

“This is a big deal for Fort Laud­erdale,” Mas said.

A new USL League One team — a farm team two rungs down from MLS — would play in the Beckham park as well, In­ter Mi­ami Sport­ing Di­rec­tor Paul McDonough said.

Mas said the sta­dium and ad­ja­cent Fort Laud­erdale Sta­dium would be de­mol­ished within months, and con­struc­tion on the new sta­dium would be­gin in July. It would be com­plete next Fe­bru­ary, in time for the March start of the sea­son.

Beckham stressed the im­por­tance of the youth soc­cer acad­emy at Lock­hart, call­ing it his or­ga­ni­za­tion’s “heart and soul.”

“It’s all about the acad­emy and the fu­ture of the kids,” Beckham said. “… This is a vi­sion­ary idea that we’re re­ally ex­cited to share with you guys. I think It’s the per­fect lo­ca­tion. It’s the lo­ca­tion we’ve been dream­ing about. It’s a lo­ca­tion that gives the kids … a real op­por­tu­nity to live their dreams.”

Lock­hart has a long his­tory host­ing pro­fes­sional soc­cer, in the days of the first and sec­ond in­car­na­tions of the Strik­ers team, as well as the Mi­ami Fu­sion years. Now, it’s used by no one, not even a lawn-cut­ting crew.

“It might need a lit­tle bit of a trim,” Beckham said.

AMY BETH BEN­NETT/SUN SEN­TINEL

David Beckham takes a selfie with the over­grown field be­hind him at Lock­hart Sta­dium in Fort Laud­erdale on Thurs­day.

AMY BETH BEN­NETT/SUN SEN­TINEL

Lock­hart Sta­dium in Fort Laud­erdale on Thurs­day where David Beckham’s team will play its first two sea­sons, if the city agrees.

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