Inter Miami CF and the City of Ft. Lauderdale scored a legal victory on Friday, after Florida Circuit Court Judge Raag Singhal ruled against FXE Futbol's request for an emergency injunction to delay demolition of Lockhart Stadium.
The ruling clears the way for work to begin at the site where Inter Miami -- whose ownership group is led by David Beckham and MasTec chairman Jorge Mas -- plans to build a new 18,000-seat venue, as well as a training facility and community fields. Inter Miami plans to play its first two MLS seasons in MLS at a rebuilt Lockhart Stadium, starting in 2020. The timeline for construction is very aggressive, with completion required before the start of 2020 MLS season scheduled for March, making Friday's decision critical to Inter Miami's plans.
John Shubin, counsel for Beckham's group, said in a statement: "Today's decision confirms that the process that is bringing world class soccer to the City of Fort Lauderdale was both lawful and fair. Our client will continue to move forward in good faith with the hard work that needs to be accomplished to convert this process into a reality. We also hope that we have seen the end of this meritless litigation."
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The ruling amounts to a possibly devastating blow to FXE Futbol's plans for the site. FXE Futbol's proposal included renovating and not replacing Lockhart Stadium, which explains its attempts to delay demolition via a temporary injunction. FXE Futbol had argued that it would suffer "irreparable harm" should demolition be allowed to proceed. But Judge Singhal ruled, "Plaintiff has failed to sustain its burden to support the issuance of a temporary injunction. Plaintiff has not proffered competent, substantial evidence it has a substantial likelihood of success on the merits."
With demolition now cleared to begin on or around May 6, FXE Futbol's proposal will be rendered moot. But David J. Winker, the attorney representing FXE Futbol, vowed to fight on.
"I respect Judge Singhal very much, but with his conclusions as to our right to temporary injunction and will be appealing," Winker said via email. "We also look forward to continuing to pursue our underlying case."
The $60 million project was approved by the City of Ft. Lauderdale last month over a competing bid from FXE Futbol. But soon after the City of Ft. Lauderdale announced its preference for Inter Miami's proposal, FXE filed a lawsuit in Broward County Court. The suit alleges that the City of Ft. Lauderdale violated Florida state law as it relates to unsolicited offers for development of public land by a private entity by not getting "an architect, landscape architect, or an engineer licensed in this state" to review the proposals. State law also requires an "independent analysis" to demonstrate the public-private partnership's cost effectiveness.
FXE Futbol also accused Inter Miami of falsely stating to the City of Ft. Lauderdale that the FXE Futbol's proposal wasn't viable because of the "tremendous amount" of asbestos on the site, thus making a renovation unfeasible. FXE Futbol's managing partner J.P. Reynal was also concerned that "the subsequent signing of the interim agreement to demolish Lockhart would render our proposal impossible to deliver."
Inter Miami is attempting to construct a permanent venue, Miami Freedom Park, at Melreese Country Club in Miami, but that plan -- which still requires a 99-year lease to be approved by the Miami City Commission -- won't see construction completed until the 2022 season at the earliest. For that reason, Inter Miami and the City of Ft. Lauderdale signed an interim agreement last week, with demolition scheduled to begin on May 6.