The endless rollercoaster of indecision that is David Beckham’s quest for an MLS franchise has a new twist as of last week. Claro. The Miami Herald reported that Beckham’s group, primarily newly minted owner Jorge Mas, are looking at potential stadium sites other than the Overtown plan which was close to being finalized. The new locations, no less than five according to Mas, span from Downtown to Doral to Hialeah.
They seem to concede that after years of bluffing about requiring a stadium in the “urban core”, MLS doesn’t really care where they put it as long as it’s in the county.
One of the sites that’s making Miamians do a double take is Hialeah Park. And it could be the perfect location for Beckham to base his MLS franchise.
Hear me out, groaning Miamians.
Hialeah Park was renowned around the world for its horse racing once upon a time. The Kennedys, Harry Truman, and Winston Churchill were counted among its most famous patrons. Eventually, the track fell into disuse and quickly deteriorated until being partially restored in 2009.
Today it remains minimally used. Races are few and far in between and crowds are negligible. So what’s next? Major League Soccer could mark a new era for the park, which was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
Now, Miamians are naturally resistant to the idea of a stadium in Hialeah, the sixth-biggest city in Florida which draws the ire and is the butt of jokes of many a Miamian. Hialeah is about 75% Cuban or Cuban-American, the most of any city in the US. The primary language is Spanish. The culture, for better or for worse, defines the working-class city. The street grid is independent from the county’s, something which this Hialeah-born-and-raised soccer columnist thinks is perfectly fine (and easy to understand) but which Miamians love to moan about.
So why is Hialeah the perfect site for Beckham’s stadium? Simply put, it ticks all the boxes.
Location, location, location
Hialeah Park is located in southeastern Hialeah. It’s just minutes away from major arteries of Miami including the Palmetto Expressway, Okeechobee Road, I-112, and I-95. It’s central location and ease of access puts communities as far as Kendall, Pembroke Pines, and even Davie a relatively simple 25-45 minute drive away, making it a draw for a wide swath of South Florida. And those who hope to eschew driving and use public transportation to get to matches are in luck – the Hialeah MetroRail station is located on the southern edge of the property. Nearby stations Okeechobee and Palmetto offer extensive parking for fans who prefer to park and ride, while the Tri-Rail station minutes from the park connects the area directly to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
This MLS group has a unique opportunity to spark a revitalization of Hialeah, a city with a population similar to Orlando and yet a world apart. The latter has shown that the excitement for a new MLS franchise can be channeled into ways that transform a community, giving them something to get excited about as well as encouraging new investment and new infrastructure that give fans a better night out whether or not there’s a match scheduled.
On the come up
The site is also close to the up-and-coming Leah Arts District, an initiative by the City of Hialeah to cultivate a district akin to Wynwood. Tenants include Unbranded Brewing, Hialeah’s first brewery, and Stephen’s, a Jewish deli mainstay that’s been around since 1954 and was recently acquired by Matt Kuscher, whose restaurants include the hugely popular LoKal in Coconut Grove and KUSH in Wynwood. Nightlife neighborhoods like Wynwood, Downtown, and the Grove are a relatively short drive away. Fans hoping to get a bite to eat or have a few pints before matches have many options in Hialeah, where food and alcohol are cheaper than in the rest of Miami.
Better still, the 40 acres or so on which the park sits gives Beckham and his group plenty of space to build the soccer complex they are envisioning, with an academy, youth soccer fields, and more.
Beckham, Mas, and the rest of the ownership should capitalize on this and seize the opportunity to take a once internationally-renowned park whose star has faded and make it new it with a world-class football club and facilities. If they managed to do that, they’d be helping the City of Progress live up to its name.