The best of the Miami Herald’s interview with Fútbol Miami MLS co-owner Jorge Mas and Miami mayor Francis Suarez

Fútbol Miami MLS co-owner Jorge Mas, left, and Miami mayor Francis Suarez appear in front of the Miami Herald's editorial board on Monday. Screengrab via the Miami Herald's live stream.

On Monday, in advance of Fútbol Miami MLS appearing in front of the City of Miami’s commission for the second time in a week on Wednesday, co-owner Jorge Mas and Mayor Francis Suarez were grilled by the Miami Herald’s editorial board for an hour, facing a series of questions about the proposed development at Melreese Country Club.

In the hour, Mas revealed a number of interesting bits of information. Here are some of the most important for fans of Fútbol Miami MLS.

What’s in a name?

Mas revaled the most information about the team’s name, although he did not reveal the name itself.

“We do have a decision on the name, but we’ll get there. You should see how we’re going to unveil the name. very cool,” Mas said early on in the interview.

He came back to it later, with even more specifics.

“Among the owners, we’ve chosen the name. We’re all in agreement,” Mas said. “We’re working on shields and colors, which we have two creative agencies working on. I think it’s well received. Frankly, the fans have picked it, because we’ve focused grouped and the fans have picked the name. It’s all about the fans. It’s the fans’ team. It’s a great name.

“The way we’re going to unveil the name is very different than any unveiling of a name. It’s not going to be on a site somewhere where we’re standing on a podium and unveiling the name. That’s not how we’re going to do it. I’ll leave it at that.”

Time is of the essence

A lot has been made of the rush to put this proposal on the ballot in November. Mas finally provided an explanation.

“We have to get a stadium decision on the ballot as quickly as possible, because per the expansion agreement with Major League Soccer, I have to start construction by October 2019. If construction doesn’t start October 2019, I’m technically in default of the expansion agreement. That puts the team at risk of coming to Miami. The rush is driven by the need for a stadium.”

This highlights why negotiation might prove to be tricky for the ownership group.

“Frankly, the city is in a good position with leverage: I have to have a stadium,” Mas said. “If not, I don’t have a team. I need a stadium. From a leverage perspective, I don’t have any leverage. I need to put a stadium somewhere.”

He also explained why one possible alternate site to Overtown was eliminated so early: the site closest to Jackson Memorial Hospital.

“When we first met with Commissioner [Willy] Gort, [he] said ‘I would very much like you to go look at another lot,’ which I think is a General Administration lot, 20th street next to Jackson Memorial Hospital. I went there and took the whole MLS, there were 20 of us. When they were looking at the site, two firefighters came out and they said, ‘Oh my God! Soccer’s coming!” and they got really fired up. [MLS commissioner Don Garber] gave them his scarf, and they said ‘Are you guys going to put the stadium here?’ We’re looking at it as a potential approved site, and the firefighters said, ‘Listen, you cannot do that because your fans will get contaminated because the waste transfer station next door is making our firefighters sick.’ So unfortunately, the MLS said we’re not going to approve this site.”

Mas also confirmed that if the Melreese deal were to fall through, Fútbol Miami MLS would head back to Overtown.

Tussle with Russell

It is believed that Commissioner Ken Russell will prove to be a pivotal swing vote on Wednesday. Mas went out of his way to address what’s being done in relation to his concerns.

“On some of the other concerns that commissioner Russell brought up, we’ve addressed a lot of them,” Mas said. “If I recall, the pending ones were talking about The First Tee, the no-net-loss of park space, we said we’d comply with no net loss of park space. … The other issue he brought up was the living-wage issue. We’re in discussions and conversations on that, because there are a lot of different components going on with that. That’ll be addressed, I don’t know if that’ll be in the ballot language or the resolution, but that’ll be addressed with some clarity.”

Remediation frustration

One of the biggest sticking points is the cost to deal with toxic ash that is buried beneath the course. Mas estimates that it will cost $35 million to deal with the issue at the course, but a similar project on a nine-acre park in the City of Miami cost $8 million. The area affected by construction at Melreese is 133.5 acres. At the Douglas Park rate, cleanup of Melreese would cost approximately 112.5 million dollars. Mas seemed confident this wouldn’t be an issue, and insisted the city would not be on the hook.

“The remediation is the other issue. I will continue saying that it is my intent and commitment the city not pay any dollars,” Mas said. “We’ve beared down to a number, which is $35 million, on the remediation costs. I fully anticipate that should be enough. We do not have any information where I can guarantee you that. I’m highly confident, my engineers, my consultants, are highly confident, but we don’t know.”

When asked if Mas would go to the city for money, he reiterated: “No, we’d look for the federal and state contributions.”

“We’ll know by early September what the number is. Well before the November vote, we will have a definitive, clear answer on the remediation. It is my full expectation that it will fall within $35 million and there will be no issues where the city has to contribute.”

Technically tech

As part of the video announcing Miami Freedom Park and Soccer Village, it was said that the park would contain a “Technology Hub.” Mas offered a bit of a clearer picture as to what that would mean.

“I have an element that has not been announced, that is not here. There is a technology component of this destination which will be new investment into Miami. So it’s not existing investment, it’s not as if we’re building this and then hoping to attract the guys from Wynwood. … This technology innovation hub that I’m anticipating will bring new technology investment to Miami.”

Mas stated the technology company involved would be announced before the vote in November.

Kansas City shows Mas

In an unlikely turn, it appears Kansas City played a big role in Jorge Mas becoming affiliated with Fútbol Miami MLS. Co-owner Marcelo Claure is based in Kansas City in his role as Sprint CEO and apparently showed Mas around a game.

“It was one of the most amazing experiences that I’ve been to, and I’ve been to every major sporting event in the world. It was 21,000 people, packed house, in Kansas City, enjoying a game among families. There was a beautiful cross-section of a crowd. It was extremely fun, and it was an example of what, I think, a sporting experience done right.”

Mas then used the Kansas City example to draw parallels to the proposed plan at Melreese.

“I am probably one of the few or handful of sports owners who will say that stadiums on their own are not economic generators. They are not … A stadium can be part of a destination … and I think it brings huge positive components that if designed correctly can be taken advantage of for the city.

Putting in the work

The delay approved by the commission on Thursday apparently triggered the ownership group to start targeting the commissioners for their support.

“We have had extensive conversations, frankly, will all the commissioner’s offices. Specifically with commissioner [Joe] Carollo, commissioner Russell, commissioner Gort, commissioner [Keon] Hardemon, commissioner [Manolo] Reyes has gotten information. It’s evolved, I think. You will see some adjustments and changes to clarify what everyone’s intent is. So when I talk about, specifically, when you look at the land lease numbers, for example. Going into Thursday of last week, because we were focusing on ballot language, there was elements that we we’re going to work on post-(vote), because an agreement is different than what’s on the ballot language. So what we’ve done is accelerate and talk about some of these issues and components, so the alignment of interests is expressed before the vote, not after the vote.”

Mas elaborated on his work with commissioner Gort, who has Melreese within his district boundaries.

“I’ve had several conversations with commissioner Gort, as he asked me to engage the neighborhood. We’re doing that, we’ve done that as quickly as we can. We’re setting up some larger meetings with the neighbors. … There’s going to be meetings established. He also asked me specifically on some things that had to do with the traffic.”

Point of clarification

One of Mayor Suarez’s most important contributions was a clarification as to how much commercial space would be created in the development. It turns out, there was a key error in one of the early factsheets.

“There were initial reports that it was 1,000,000 square feet of commercial. It’s 1,000,000 square feet of development, not 1,000,000 square feet of commercial. … It’s significantly less than that, it’s about 400,000 square feet of commercial. … I think that caused some consternation when that came out.”

First signing?

One of the most interesting tidbits for true soccer fans came early in the interview, when Mas revealed he picked a side in the 2018 World Cup Final on Sunday, and he may have had a vested reason for supporting Croatia.

“I adopted a team, I was cheering for Croatia yesterday … There’s a player there who is extremely interested in coming to Miami, a very high-profile player.”

The World Cup runners-up came to Miami in March for a friendly against Peru. At the time, four players attended a Miami Heat game: Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic and Luka Modric. All four could fit the bill as a “high-profile” player.

 

Miami vs NY… Thanks @nba for great hospitality! 🏀🔝

A post shared by Luka Modric (@lukamodric10) on

It’s impossible to know how Wednesday’s vote will break. There are some reports Gort may be more inclined to vote yes. While some of Russell’s concerns have been addressed, there has been no confirmed commitment to a yes vote. All that we do know is that for all we learned in the interview Monday, there’s a lot more yet to be known.

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