UPDATED at 3:11 p.m., Wed., Oct. 21.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has reportedly told David Beckham's representatives that he will not object to Miami partnering with the school system to build a soccer stadium, despite the obvious political play his camp sees for the mayor's 2016 opponent: Raquel Regalado, a school board member and daughter of Miami's mayor.
In a private meeting with soccer negotiators Monday, Gimenez was told of the potential deal, which would have Miami-Dade's school system own the stadium. Until then, the plan was for Miami-Dade itself to own the stadium in order to spare Beckham from having to pay property taxes.
In the meeting, according to sources on both sides, Gimenez reportedly expressed his amazement at the switch and said that he thought the politics involved were pretty clear, since Regalado's father,Tomás Regalado, is mayor of the city negotiating with Beckham.
But Gimenez also reportedly said he could "live with" the deal, according to one source, and would not try to scuttle it. The mayor reportedly stated his interest was in bringing professional soccer to Miami-Dade, and would not insist on a central role for the county in delivering it.
The school system's entry into the plan would reduce Gimenez to a much more minor role in the soccer talks, while potentially thrusting Regalado into the spotlight as the school board member whose district includes Marlins Park. Raquel Regalado and Gimenez are running against each other in the 2016 county mayoral race. Raquel Regalado declined to comment.
Tensions have always been high between the mayor's office and the school system, which has tangled with Miami-Dade on property appeals and the land deal to bring a mega-mall to northwest Miami-Dade. Injecting soccer into the mix is sure to increase the frostiness. As of Wednesday morning -- after The Miami Herald first published the news -- Gimenez reportedly had not yet spoken to Alberto Carvalho, the school system's superintendent. [Update at 3:10 p.m.: Carvalho said he spoke to Gimenez Wednesday. "There is no issue between Mayor Gimenez and me," Carvalho said. "We both agree the issue of ownership is irrelevant to the realization of this project."]
Michael Hernández, Gimenez's spokesman, said in a statement: "Mayor Gimenez has always supported and will continue to support bringing Major League Soccer to Miami-Dade County. He would be supportive of any arrangement that would result in an MLS franchise playing in our community, but he continues to believe that a stadium should be built with private and not taxpayer dollars."
The potential deal would have Beckham's group pay to build the stadium under the school system's ownership. The school system is reportedly offering to promote Beckham's games with its students, and contemplating the use of field trips, team uniforms and classroom presentations to boost soccer prospect's among the county's youngest residents. The school would also have use of the stadium for major events, such as graduations and popular football games.
Behind the scenes, Gimenez had quietly been in favor of a privately owned stadium site in Overtown but was also supportive of the location next to Marlins Park when that became the preferred choice for Mayor Regalado. The Beckham group had resisted the location, which is more inland than the initial sites they were pushing in downtown Miami when the soccer push first began in early 2014.
Marlins Park went up where the old Orange Bowl football stadium used to stand, and the beloved name is the preferred name for the area now that it is being targeted for a soccer facility, too. The plan is for Miami voters to approve the soccer deal during a city referendum in March.
Last year, Miami-Dade commissioners voted against giving Beckham land at Port Miami for a stadium, despite Gimenez's support for the idea. But despite past troubles, the school system's involvement wouldn't completely cut Miami-Dade out of the negotiations. A portion of the planned soccer-stadium footprint is county owned, though the bulk of the property belongs to the city and private owners.
Bruno Barreiro, the county commissioner whose district includes Marlins Park, said he was told of the school system's planned involvement this week. He said he supported the plan if it would bring soccer to Miami.
"If that's what the city wants, they're the ones negotiating with their property," he said. "I have no problem."