Dueling proposals for Lockhart Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale

We’ve got six…do I hear seven?

Six is the number of outstanding lawsuits against Inter Miami, the David Beckham/Jorge Mas prospective MLS franchise in Miami, a team that is set to begin play in the league in 2020. The bid has been beset by lawsuits since summer 2017, when Inter identified (and purchased) land at a site in Overtown, a historically black neighborhood in Miami, to play their games at.

They’ve since decided to take their talents to the Melreese golf course, and build a mega complex for a soccer stadium, office space and park, but as that was beset by political and legal issues, they submitted a proposal to the City of Ft. Lauderdale to tear down Lockhart Stadium (former home of the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers) and build a stadium to host Inter Miami while they tried to get the Melreese project over the line.

The Inter proposal came up against another: The FXE Futbol submission. That proposal had been in the works for at least a year, and Beckham’s group coming in that the proverbial last minute did not sit well with FXE. Nor did the process by which Ft. Lauderdale ultimately picked the Inter Miami proposal over FXE. A lawsuit always seemed likely, and now here we are.

David Winker, the attorney representing FXE Futbol, filed suit yesterday in Broward County, Florida to stop the demolition. Additionally (and at least immediately more concerning for Beckham/MLS), he’s asking for an injunction to stop the project.

The injunction would be a major problem if granted, as it could tie up destruction (and rebuilding) of Lockhart for months. That would put Inter and MLS in a major time crunch to get the stadium ready for a 2020 launch. They’d either have to have Inter Miami start on a long road trip (we’ve seen how MLS likes those for teams with stadium construction), find yet *another* temporary venue or (worst case) delay Inter Miami’s start. That last one it should be noted is a last-last-last (last) resort, since at no point has MLS indicated that Inter Miami won’t be coming in to play in 2020. If this latest suit gains traction however, perhaps they begin to consider other options.

Before I get into the complaint, a statement from FXE Futbol on the lawsuit:

FXE Futbol filed suit today against the City of Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beckham United in order to obtain a temporary injunction to prevent the demolition of historic Lockhart Stadium. We strongly believe that the law is not being followed and respected.

The process to award Miami Beckham United a 50 year lease for Lockhart Stadium has been rushed from its inception.  The Fort Lauderdale City Commission allowed only 21 days (the legal minimum) for competing bids to be submitted and took just 14 additional days to review them. Then on April 2nd the Commission voted to sign an interim agreement allowing Miami Beckham United to demolish Lockhart Stadium, the centerpiece of our 2nd ranked proposal.

We can no longer stand on the sidelines while our due process is being violated. Not only do we believe the ranking was carried out without the proper statutory review, but the subsequent signing of the Interim Agreement to demolish Lockhart would render our proposal impossible to deliver.

While we are not asking for preferential treatment, we do demand that we and all future bidders in front of the City of Ft Lauderdale receive a fair, open review in accordance with the mandated legal process.

Statement from FXE Futbol

I’ve also reached out to MLS for comment, and will update with any comments they provide.

Onto the main points of the lawsuit: I just went through it (the complaint itself is a manageable 16 pages) and it looks like there are three main points of controversy: Allegation of false statements (re: remediation), failure to comply with the City Charter (generally) & the Interim Agreement being beyond the scope of what is allowed.

False Statements:

This is pretty straightforward. The plaintiffs are alleging a MLS lobbyist misrepresented the scope of asbestos/mold issues at Lockhart, arguing that the facility needed to be torn down since the asbestos issues would make refurbishing it pointless.

Allegations of false statements from Inter Miami by FXE

Obviously, remediation issues are a hot button topic these days (Inter Miami is dealing with those problems at their desired Melreese site), so the argument here is that these comments unduly swayed the City Commission into rejecting the FXE proposal. I was provided a document which purports to show that the remediation costs are nominal.

Remediation costs for asbestos/mold would be minimal according to this document.

Statutory Violations:

The complaint next argues that Ft. Lauderdale, by virtue of the somewhat rushed nature of their negotiations with the Inter Miami group, failed to comply with the oversight requirements required by Florida law.

Allegations of not complying with Florida Statutes.

Specifically, the complaint argues the City did not engage with the required architect/engineers, nor conducted an “independent analysis” on the respective proposals.

FXE argues the rushed process led to noncompliance with the law.

My experience in covering these issues in Miami (specifically in the Overtown and Melreese case) is that courts have tended to give deference to the municipalities (none of the suits in those cases have succeeded at the trial or appellate level yet), but we’ll see what happens here.

Interim Agreement:

Frankly, this is where I think Inter Miami and the City could be in the most trouble. About 10 days ago, the parties entered into an interim agreement which allows Inter Miami to commence with demolition of Lockhart Stadium. This is in spite of the fact that there is no lease or management agreement between the parties. Further, demolition would mean that FXE Futbol could not refurbish Lockhart, in the event the agreement between Inter and the City fell apart. I referenced my concerns at the time.

It seems FXE Futbol has the same issues, as it’s a part of the lawsuit.

Limitations of Interim Agreements according to the complaint.

A lot of this is common sense to be honest. If you want to make a full agreement, make the full agreement. But allowing Inter Miami to destroy the stadium in advance of a comprehensive agreement seems to run afoul of the language, quite clearly.

Argument from FXE that allowing demolition before an agreement is reached violates Florida Statute.

I really don’t see how one can claim that the total destruction of Lockhart is anything other than a modification. This argument seems to be clear on its face.

So, that’s the lawsuit in a nutshell. That most important thing now for Inter Miami and MLS is the preliminary injunction that will be filed shortly. If that is granted, MLS has a big problem on its hands, depending on how long the injunction lasts. If it goes on for months, that means there is no way the stadium is ready to open in spring 2020.


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