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David Beckham still seeking investors for MLS team, stadium

MIAMI -- David Beckham is bringing the gift of Major League Soccer to Miami.

Now he must deliver a place for his team to play.

If there was a surprise amid the festival atmosphere of Wednesday's announcement that the British soccer legend has exercised an option to purchase an expansion franchise to play in Miami, it was how much has to be done before the yet-to-be-named team plays its first game.

Beckham doesn't know when it will begin play or where it will be based. He promised that construction of the stadium will be privately funded, but said he is still recruiting investors to make it happen.

"I think people maybe were hoping we were going to have the team name (Wednesday), hoping we were going to have the stadium locked down. Those things take time," he said. "The first big decision we have to make, which we'll make in the next couple of months, is the right investors. We have a lot of good people that are coming in to be a part of this and want to be large investors in this franchise."

As to whether one of those investors may the Heat's LeBron James, Beckham said they have spoken superstar to superstar, both in the context of business and as friends.

"He wants this to succeed. He loves the city. He loves being here; you know how proud he is of being part of the Heat. He's very interested in this," Beckham said.

Beckham's partners include fellow Brit Simon Fuller, creator of the Idol franchise that spawned "American Idol," and Marcelo Claure, the Bolivian billionaire who founded Brightstar Communications.

Beckham, who wore a gray suit and received a rock-star reception, was joined at an outdoor news conference overlooking Biscayne Bay by MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Enthusiastic fans chanted "Thank you, Beckham," and waved black, blue and white "MLS in Miami" scarves.

Beckham's team will become the 22nd MLS franchise, following Orlando City which begins play in 2015.

As to whether his team would be ready to put the ball in play in 2016, Beckham said, "It's hard to put a time on it. We want the team in the league when it is the right time for the team and when it's the right time for the city."

As for the name and colors, he said, "I know how important names are to the culture, to the fans, and it's got to be right. The colors are going to be very vibrant. It's Miami, they have to be."

What was revealed was that Beckham invoked an option in the contract he signed when he came to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy that upon retiring he could purchase an expansion team for a bargain price of $25 million and locate it somewhere in the United States or Canada. He did so before the Dec. 31 deadline, Garber said.

"He now has some time to get a stadium project built," Garber said. "So we've got some work to do to get that done. This was the first step in a process."

Beckham's group has been exploring possible stadium sites for several months. His representatives began negotiating with Gimenez for leasing county-owned land to build a stadium seating about 25,000. Miami-Dade officials have made it clear they will not provide public money for construction, and Gimenez said Wednesday that land will not be provided rent-free.

The site preferred by Beckham and MLS is in the Southwest corner of PortMiami. Some Miami-Dade commissioners have expressed opposition to locating a stadium in the port. Whatever deal is struck will require public hearings and approval by the commission. That process could take months.

"We will be downtown," said Beckham, who has attended many Heat games in recent years. "I think it's important that we are in this part of the city. I've seen what Micky (Arison) and his family have done with the Heat. Soccer fans, they love to walk to games.

"We don't want public funding," said Beckham. "We will fund the stadium ourselves. It's something that we have worked very hard to get to this stage where we can fund the stadium ourselves. We want to create a stadium. We want to create a football club that is the people's football club."

Nonetheless, Beckham's group has hired prominent Tallahassee lobbyist Brian Ballard to help seek a state sales-tax subsidy similar to what other professional sports teams across Florida have received for building stadium facilities.

"What we want from the state is to be treated exactly like every other sports franchise is. There will be a certain amount of funds from that. But the build of the stadium is privately funded," Beckham said.

When Beckham's team does begin play, it will be the second MLS venture in South Florida. The Miami Fusion was contracted along with the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 2001 due to poor attendance. The team was conceived for the Orange Bowl but instead played four seasons in Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium.

Garber, MLS commissioner since 1999, acknowledged his role in folding the Fusion, saying he still gets emails from angry fans.

"That is a lesson. You have be very mindful when you make those decisions that it impacts the lives of people. So we've got to be sure we get it right," Garber said.

"We learned that stadium location was key to our success. We were up north in the past. We were not in the urban core, and we failed. The mayor (Gimenez) has a great desire to get a stadium done downtown that can be iconic. It's about ensuring that we have the political support and the support of the people."

On Tuesday night, Beckham rallied support for his franchise during a reception at the James L. Knight concert hall attended by politicians and others of influence in Miami.

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers, who play in the North American Soccer League and are based at Lockhart Stadium, extended congratulations to Beckham.

"We welcome the rivalry of another soccer team to the region," said Strikers President Tom Mulroy.

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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