David Beckham will soon have the piece of land he needs to bring a Major League Soccer team to Miami, more than four years after his ownership group started scouting potential homes.
Miami-Dade County commissioners approved a deal on Tuesday to sell three acres of county land to Beckham's group, the last segment of a 9-acre plot on which a 25,000-seat stadium is planned to be built.
Miami Beckham United will pay just over $9 million for the last piece of land. It has already paid $19 million for the other six acres needed. Beckham's group says the planned stadium would be privately funded, and the stadium would also be subject to county property tax.
MLS has not yet officially awarded Miami an expansion franchise, but Tim Leiweke, one of Beckham's investors, said the group is hopeful that formality will be completed this month now that a land/stadium deal is in place.
"Now is the time for MLS to move forward in helping us deliver the soccer club that Miami has been waiting for," the group said in a statement. "Miami is the eighth largest metro area in the U.S., the country's number one soccer market, and a critical gateway to Latin America and Europe. MLS will only reach its full potential once it fields a team here."
The group also moved up its planned opening of the venue by one year to 2020, Leiweke said.
The land deal is a major development in what has been at times an arduously slow -- and often frustrating -- process for Beckham in his quest to bring a franchise to Miami.
A contract he signed in 2007 with the Los Angeles Galaxy gave Beckham the right to start an expansion franchise for $25 million, and in 2013 he picked Miami as his team's location.
The plan has changed many times along the way, most notably because he was unable to get waterfront land that his group first coveted for a stadium site.
"I will tell you this is probably the best site we have found, for many respects," Beckham group attorney Neisen Kasdin said, before listing reasons that include the site's proximity to several modes of public transportation and the Miami River.
The vote in Miami on Beckham's land deal was preceded by several members of the community urging commissioners to vote no, mostly citing noise and traffic concerns. A few supporters spoke as well, and after three hours of discussion, commissioners approved the deal 9-4.
"This land has been an eyesore for years. ... Something needs to be done with it, now," said commissioner Audrey Edmonson, who represents the Overtown neighborhood where the stadium is planned.
The deal that allowed the Miami Marlins to get a new taxpayer-built baseball ballpark on the former Orange Bowl site is still a source of major contention for the city and the county. There's also skepticism about the Beckham group's plan to build a stadium with no on-site parking, with plans instead to rely on shuttles, walking and public transportation.
"As far as sports deals go with the county, this one isn't so bad," commissioner Joe Martinez said.
The Miami City Commission will now have to approve a zoning change for the land, and chairman Keon Hardemon, in whose district the stadium lies, is holding off of giving the project his blessing until he sees more detail from MBU.
"My concern is for the neighborhood," Hardemon told ESPN FC, a day before the County Commission's vote. "There are a significant number of concerns that the residents have about having the stadium there. The question for me is: Is this zoning appropriate for a stadium there?
"I get emails from Spring Garden every day saying they don't want a stadium as a neighbor. But you really have to have some kind of architectural design before we can make a comment about what is going to be there. Right now, we just don't know."
Overtown has long endured economic difficulties, and the stadium project has been touted as an economic engine that could revitalize the neighborhood.
But Hardemon is skeptical as on that front well, adding: "I don't believe that, necessarily, a stadium will revitalize an area. You can't say the same thing for the Marlins [baseball] stadium. You can't say the same thing for the [NFL's] Hard Rock Stadium, and that's been there for decades."
MLS officials will be in Miami on Wednesday to tour the planned site, and the league said it was pleased to see county commissioners ratify Mayor Carlos Gimenez's recommendation to allow the sale.
"The process was lengthy, difficult, but necessary in order to ensure that Miami-Dade County taxpayers were properly compensated," Gimenez said.
Miami has been without an MLS team since the league folded the Fusion in 2001 after four seasons. The city is also currently home to Miami FC, which began play in the second-tier NASL last year, playing home games at Florida International University.
Beckham is not the only huge global name pursuing MLS expansion these days; Landon Donovan has joined the ownership group that is hoping to bring a team to San Diego -- but it has not been easy going either.
The victory for Beckham came just one day after the San Diego City Council decided not to finance a special election that would have brought plans of building a new soccer complex there to a vote.
In a pair of tweets, Donovan wrote that "we have to respect the process" and that "just because we're down at halftime doesn't mean we stop trying."
Information from ESPN FC's Jeff Carlisle and The Associated Press was used in this report.