The latest legal dispute involving Inter Miami FC’s attempt to build an arena on the site of Lockhart Stadium took an unexpected turn on Tuesday, with rival bidder FXE Futbol having to go to court to halt what it deemed to be demolition work that had begun at the venue.
Last month the Ft. Lauderdale City Commission selected Inter Miami’s $60 million plan to tear down Lockhart Stadium, and replace it with a new 18,000-seat stadium, as well as a training facility and fields for the public. Inter Miami’s plans — put forward by an ownership group that includes David Beckham and MasTec chairman Jorge Mas — include playing its first two seasons in Major League Soccer at the rebuilt venue, starting in 2020. Inter Miami and the city signed an interim agreement last week, with demolition scheduled to begin on May 6.
Inter Miami’s proposal was selected over that of FXE Futbol, whose plans involved renovating the facility as opposed to tearing it down. In response, FXE Futbol filed a lawsuit alleging that the City of Ft. Lauderdale City violated Florida state law as it relates to unsolicited offers for development of public land by a private entity by not getting “an architect, landscape architect, or an engineer licensed in this state” to review the proposals. State law also requires an “independent analysis” to demonstrate the public-private partnership’s cost effectiveness.
FXE Futbol also accused Inter Miami of falsely stating to the City of Ft. Lauderdale that the FXE Futbol’s proposal wasn’t viable because of the “tremendous amount” of asbestos on the site, thus making a renovation unfeasible. FXE Futbol’s managing partner J.P. Reynal was also concerned that “the subsequent signing of the interim agreement to demolish Lockhart would render our proposal impossible to deliver.”
A hearing for the suit is scheduled for 5 p.m. ET on May 1, but on Tuesday workers began tearing down the light stanchions that ring the stadium. Ft. Lauderdale city manager Chris Lagerbloom denied that demolition work had begun on the site.
“Demolition is not occurring,” Lagerbloom said in an email to ESPN. “The only work being performed on the City-owned property, as of today, is the removal of stadium lights in conjunction with aviation authorities and Florida Power and Light in accordance with the approved Interim Agreement.”
David J. Winker, acting as counsel for FXE Futbol, went to court to put a halt to the work. In an email to ESPN, he said the work being done a day before the scheduled hearing marked “a new low” in the 25 years he had practiced law.
“Their defense was that they were only ‘removing the lights in anticipation of demolition.’ This is clearly not true as evidenced by the many pictures on social media.
“Caught red-handed and forced to stop, they have agreed they will not engage in any further demolition of Lockhart pending [Wednesday’s] hearing.”