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Miami-Dade schools chief on David Beckham stadium: 'Political intrigue' shouldn't derail a good deal

@doug_hanks

When Miami-Dade schools chief Alberto Carvalho met with David Beckham's Miami team Tuesday morning in the lobby of a downtown hotel, he upended the assumptions of a soccer-stadium deal that seemed close to being finalized.

Beckham's group is in talks with Miami to assemble stadium land next to Marlins Park, with a large chunk of the real estate already owned by the city itself. The publicly stated plan had been for Beckham's group to pay for building the stadium, and for Miami to turn over the land to Miami-Dade in order to shield the for-profit soccer entity from having to pay property taxes.

It had the potential for an awkward transaction, since Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is facing a reelection challenge from Raquel Regalado, a school board member who is also the daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado

But over coffee at the Intercontinental Miami with Beckham reps, Carvalho discussed another route. Rather than Miami-Dade owning the 30,000-seat stadium, he offered to have the school system provide the same arrangement. 

The contours of the deal made public Wednesday upended the potential politics of it, too. Rather than Gimenez serving as the role of Beckham landlord,  Carvalho would. And Raquel Regalado, whose district includes the soccer site next to Marlins Park, could share in the spotlight of bringing professional soccer back to Miami. 

Carvalho said Wednesday he didn't want to consider politics in pursuing a good deal for the school system. 

"If you are in my shoes, why should you allow the possibility of political intrigue to derail the greater consideration of public benefit?" Carvalho said in a telephone interview. "Is it worth the political trouble? If the public benefits outweigh it, then absolutely." 

In exchange for the school system owning the stadium, Carvalho wants Beckham to pay for building a specialty school focused on sports inside the stadium complex itself. The magnet program would target children seeking careers in sports management, sports medicine and other related fields. Carvalho said he plans to ask Beckham to pay for it.

"It would be at no cost to taxpayers or to the school board," he said. 

Carvalho also wants free use of the playing field for graduations and major high-school games, since the system does not have stadiums large enough to hold local bowl games and other major events. Beckham's group also would be asked to support the system financially by sponsoring teams, music and other programs.

It is a much more complicated deal than Miami-Dade was offering, with Gimenez already publicly supportive of the county owning the privately-financed stadium. But Beckham would still need support from the 13-member County Commission, which last year blocked his original plan to build a stadium on PortMiami. 

A source close to the talks said Carvalho's perceived control of school-board votes was considered a plus in dropping Miami-Dade as the stadium's landlord. While the board rarely defies Carvalho's recommendations, Gimenez frequently clashes with commissioners. Pursuing a deal with the school board was described as "far less complicated" than trying to win a seven-vote majority on the commission, the source said. 

The Beckham side's embrace of the plan is also raising questions of the role Regalado played in getting both Miami and Beckham's group to green-light the idea.

In an interview, she said she talked to her father about the school system serving as Beckham's landlord instead of the county.

In May, the University of Miami convened Beckham, Regalado and Gimenez for talks about the college having its football team play at the soccer stadium, too. Raquel Regalado said those discussions prompted her to suggest the possibility of the school system getting involved in the stadium instead.

"There was a conversation about UM and UM being an educational partner, and I said to my Dad: The school system could be an educational partner, too," she said. 

"This is a fantastic opportunity for the school district that I represent. One of the reasons I'm running is that elected officials need to work together and have better partnerships," she continued. "It just so happens that the city of Miami's mayor is my father and we work well together." 

Carvalho emphasized he has not negotiated a deal with Beckham's side, and that his vision of the stadium's benefits are mostly just a wishlist at this point that would be the subject of talks. But the school system's new central role in Miami's soccer chase left the Gimenez camp grumbling about political shenanigans while saying it won't try to scuttle the deal over who should own the building. 

"We don't care who has it," one source close to the mayor said. "We just want it here." 

Carvalho said the idea to make Beckham's stadium school property was his own. He said in late August, he saw "what appeared to be a stalemate and impasse" in Beckham's pursuit of a soccer stadium.

It was about a month after Beckham's group announced it had reached a deal with Mayor Regalado to pursue a soccer site next to Marlins Park, and Mayor Gimenez had publicly embraced the idea of the county owning the facility. 

Despite describing a "stalemate," Carvalho said he assumed Beckham could get his soccer deal done with Miami and Miami-Dade. But he said he saw an opportunity missed when the city and county partnered to build Marlins Park and the AmericanAirlines Arena. 

"Development of those two venues did not bring any benefits to Miami-Dade County public schools," he said. "The team is going to come to Miami. They are going to come. The question is will there be a negotiated benefit for the community's kids or not?"

Carvalho said the school system would help Beckham promote Miami's new soccer team with students.

"The success of a sports franchise like soccer relies on grooming early-on an audience," he said. "We teach 350,000 pre-K through 12 students and an additional 150,000 adults a year... We are [an] entity that, as a direct result of this partnership, certainly could be a supportive audience of this franchise."

He noted the school system already sends all fifth graders to the Arsht Center to see a musical, and fourth- and fifth-graders will be heading to downtown Miami's new science museum for a health-education program.  

The biggest benefit would come from Beckham's group not having to pay property taxes. Both the Heat and Marlins operate in county-owned facilities, and so do not face the yearly property-tax bills paid by homeowners and businesses across Miami-Dade. The Dolphins own their stadium, and pay about $4 million a year. 

Carvalho said his first call on the soccer plan was placed in mid-September to Tomás Regalado, who he described as "intrigued" by the idea of the school system owning the stadium. Carvalho said he did not speak to Raquel Regalado before calling her father. Regalado referred him to City Manager Daniel Alfonso, and Carvalho said he had phone conversations with two Beckham partners:  Marcelo Claure and Tim Leiweke, who joined the business group this month. 

In a sign of just how quickly the soccer picture changed, Carvalho said his first face-to-face meeting came Tuesday morning at the Intercontinental. He was there with Leiweke and Neisen Kasdin, Beckham's local lobbyist and lawyer. Both were there Monday night to brief Gimenez about the pending deal, and sources said the mayor expressed his irritation at the sudden change of plans. 

But by Tuesday night, Gimenez was spreading the word that he did not want to derail a potential deal between the school system,Beckham and Miami. Carvalho tried to talk to him by phone Tuesday night, but the two did not talk until Wednesday. 

School-board members were briefed Tuesday and Wednesday, and an emergency meeting of the board is scheduled for Thursday to consider the stadium idea. Negotiations would then begin, with Carvalho bringing any deal back to the board for approval  -- probably in November. 

"There is an natural propensity for suspense and intrigue," Carvalho said. "My only interest from the beginning was to become a viable partner [in a deal] that generates an immediate and tangible community benefit."

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