Inter Miami gets approval for new MLS stadium site at Melreese

The Miami City Commission approved a 99-year lease to the owners of Inter Miami CF for a redevelopment project that includes a new stadium for the Major League Soccer side.

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After over six hours of occasionally heated discussion, public comment and revising of terms, the commission approved the lease by a 4-1 vote, the minimum required for passage. Commissioner Manolo Reyes, a longtime opponent of the project, was the lone dissenting vote.

A 2018 referendum that passed with roughly 60 percent of the vote authorized the commission to negotiate the lease with Inter Miami's owners. The site currently houses Melreese golf course, which sits near Miami International Airport.

"I'm super happy," said Inter Miami CEO and managing owner Jorge Mas. "[It's been] three-and-a-half years of really hard work, negotiations, the ups and downs. But listen, today's a great day for Inter Miami. It's a great day for Major League Soccer. I think it's an amazing day for my city, for Miami. To be able to build a stadium and a transformational development around this, listen, I think it's a good day all around. But a lot of hard work went into this and the work just continues."

The vote culminates an eight-year odyssey to build a stadium in Miami, one that began with David Beckham exercising his discounted option to acquire a team, and standing alongside MLS commissioner Don Garber. The journey involved some stops and starts that included several proposed stadium sites as well as multiple changes to the team's ownership group. The delay in finding a stadium site in Miami resulted in the team playing in a temporary venue, DRV PNK Stadium, in Ft. Lauderdale.

Mas said he thinks the stadium will be completed in late 2024 or early 2025, and even with all the ups and downs, he was confident the lease would be approved.

"I said early on today, it's gonna be a great day," he said. "I was confident. I was very confident. If not, this wouldn't have taken place today. So it's the right outcome with the roller coaster ride that the day was. But yeah, I'm feeling great and I felt I felt really good all day."

Now Inter Miami can move forward, and not just on the stadium front. The project -- dubbed Miami Freedom Park -- will convert 73 acres of the 131-acre Melreese site into a 25,000-seat stadium, at least 750 hotel rooms, a 31.4-acre retail area, an office park with hundreds of thousands of square feet of space and a 58-acre public park.

Proponents stated that among the project's benefits are that it wouldn't cost taxpayers any money, would generate at least $2.67 billion in rent payments to the city over the life of the lease, and create 15,000 jobs. Critics countered that the project should have gone to public bidding, and that the project is renting the land for less than market value.

But after a slew of addendums added to the lease terms, including how $20m in funds for parks would be split up, the lease proposal passed.

The deal isn't completely done yet. The city must still approve the special area plan as well as change the zoning from "parks and recreation" to "commercial." There could be other legal challenges as well. But Mas is confident that the biggest hurdle has been overcome.

"It'll just take the time it takes," said Mas. "But the city has committed to us that they're going to do everything on an expedited basis with permitting. They understand the urgency of getting this built as soon as possible. So I expect that with the city's cooperation that we'll be able to move, hopefully on a fast track basis."