Inter Miami accuses Fort Lauderdale of blackmail after city threatens to take away parking
FORT LAUDERDALE — With Fort Lauderdale threatening to take away precious parking space at DRV PNK Stadium, the gloves have come off.
Inter Miami — co-owned by soccer legend David Beckham — fired back within hours of getting word the commission wants the team’s owners to pay $1.4 million in permit fees by midnight Saturday or lose access to vacant land south of the stadium that’s slated for a park.
Pablo Alvarez, vice president and general counsel for the Inter Miami soccer team, had one word for it: Blackmail.
In a fiery three-page response sent to city leaders on Thursday, Alvarez threatened to seek an immediate injunction and legal recourse in a court of law if the city did not retract its ultimatum by the end of business on Friday, May 5.
That’s simply not possible, Mayor Dean Trantalis told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
“We can’t convene the commission to change its decision today,” he said Friday afternoon. “If they pay the money, we’ll give them another 60 days to use the parking space.”
The commission came up with the ultimatum on Tuesday during an impromptu discussion that was not advertised in advance.
The team’s owners and representatives were not in the room when Commissioner John Herbst persuaded the commission to cut off access to the overflow lot until the team’s owners pay their permit fees.
‘We will not be blackmailed’
Alvarez and Miami Beckham United lobbyist Stephanie Toothaker got a heads up from City Manager Greg Chavarria on Thursday in the form of a letter.
“As you are aware, the city has permitted Inter-Miami to utilize the future park site as a supplemental parking lot during events at the stadium,” he wrote. “This letter is to advise you that the Commission has determined this arrangement will terminate, with no extensions permitted, unless all outstanding building permitting fees are paid prior to … midnight, May 6, 2023.”
Alvarez responded with his own three-page letter, accusing the city of resorting to blackmail via a 24-hour ultimatum.
“This decision was made by the city without giving Inter Miami due process; there was no notice or opportunity to be heard, a basic tenet of our open and democratic process,” Alvarez wrote. “We will not be blackmailed, bullied or intimidated by Commissioner Herbst … We will let the facts and the record show, via an open and impartial process, through mediation or litigation if so required, the merits of our claims.”
The two parties are heading into mediation to resolve several outstanding issues, including the unpaid permit fees. Miami Beckham United officials say the city owes them $6 million in demolition costs based on a verbal agreement they had with the former city manager. They also say the same city official had talked about waiving $1.4 million in building permit fees, Chavarria said Friday.
Those details never made it into the comprehensive agreement approved in 2019.
Herbst wants to see the team’s owners build a public park south of the stadium as they promised all along.
“My goal is to protect the taxpayers and the residents of District 1 and make sure we are treated fairly,” Herbst said Friday.
Soccer fan Steve Williams of Hollywood drives up to DRV PNK about five times a year to take in a game. The thought of having even less space to park does not thrill him.
“Parking is horrible already,” he said. “It takes us an hour to park and an hour to get out. And that’s if I’m lucky. People park all over now. It’s a zoo.”
‘Everything’s a gunfight’
Williams says he’s been reading about the feud between City Hall and the team’s owners for about two years now.
“Everything’s a gunfight,” he said. “Fort Lauderdale is bloody lucky to have a major soccer league here. People are coming from all over South Florida to go to these games. We want the park. But do we want it so badly that we’re going to piss off the fans? The commission might think they’re doing this for the people. But they’re not.”
In previous meetings, Herbst has reminded the commission that the team’s owners said early on that they planned to contract with nearby businesses for parking.
“That was the long-term plan because they never intended to build a parking garage,” Herbst said.
He declined to comment on the letter sent to the city by Inter Miami’s general counsel, saying he had not yet had a chance to read it.
In March, the commission set a May 7 deadline for the team’s parking privileges to end and for the mediation to wrap up, Herbst noted.
“They are on a month-to-month,” he added. “We can terminate anytime we want to.”
The mediation is just now getting under way, with former mayor and longtime trial attorney Jack Seiler tapped to help both sides resolve their differences.
“Sometimes you need a mediator who knows the extensive background of the dispute,” said Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University. “Seiler may be a terrific choice. A mediator is not making a final decision. They’re trying to help both parties come to a resolution. If the mediation fails, the parties continue on in their dispute. Maybe eventually it gets in front of a judge or a jury.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan