David Beckham’s Major League Soccer team Inter Miami will play their first two seasons 30 miles north of the city in a completely rebuilt stadium in Fort Lauderdale, the former England captain announced on Thursday.
The 43-year-old has been looking for a home for his team for six years, with three previous options in Miami falling through due to cost, legal wrangling and local opposition before Beckham and his partners settled last year on a site near Miami’s airport that currently houses a golf course.
But the ambitious Miami Freedom Park is not a certainty either, as there are still planning hurdles to clear and an expensive clean-up of toxic waste at the site to finance, leading some to question if the team would be ready to join the league in 2020.
Inter Miami, though, have now given themselves until 2022 to solve those issues by deciding to demolish the derelict home of the state’s first MLS team, the Miami Fusion, and build themselves a £45million training complex, with an 18,000-seat stadium that will be their temporary home.
As well as hosting the Fusion, who went bust in 2001, the Lockhart Stadium has also housed the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Florida Atlantic University’s gridiron team. But those days seem a long time ago now, as the pitch is overgrown, the windows broken and food stands boarded up.
Inter Miami’s plan is to level it and an adjacent baseball stadium, rotate the new stadium 90 degrees so it runs from north to south, and house their academy there, as well as using it as the home pitch for their under-23 team, which will compete in the second-tier United Soccer League.
Speaking to reporters at Lockhart Stadium, Beckham said: “This is an exciting day because I’ve said from day one, and that was a long time ago, that it’s all about the academy and the kids in this great city.
“It’s a visionary idea, it’s the perfect location and it’s one we feel will give kids a chance to live their dreams. This won’t just be for those who play for Inter Miami but also for kids who just want to enjoy this great game and play a safe sport in a safe place.”
Asked if he was aware that players such as Johan Cruyff and Pele had played at the venue during the North American Soccer League era, the ex-Manchester United star said: “There is a lot of history here and we’re not going to forget that, but we want to create new memories and build a great future.”
Jorge Mas, the local entrepreneur who has brought considerable financial clout to the ownership group since coming on board in 2017, explained the club would lease the land from the City of Fort Lauderdale but finance the construction themselves. This is an important point given the opposition the club has faced in Miami from tax-payers unwilling to subsidise sports venues.
Mas said it would take two to three months to demolish the two existing stadiums at Lockhart and they could start building in July. He said it would be ready by February, with Inter Miami starting their first season a month later.
However, in keeping with the club’s history, this is not quite a done deal, as the plan has to be approved by at least three of Fort Lauderdale’s five commissioners next week and there is another group interested in building a soccer academy on the site.
But Beckham and Mas said they were confident they would get the go-ahead and they certainly have the support of the MLS and the US Soccer Federation.
Mas added that they had discussed their plans with the boss of world football’s governing body Gianni Infantino, who is in Miami for a FIFA Council meeting, over dinner on Wednesday.
The club have also released pictures of how the complex will look and some in south Florida have suggested it looks too good for the youth team and may end up becoming a more permanent home than Beckham and his fellow investors are willing to admit at the moment.