Miami Freedom Park a potential future home for UM football


Soccer stadium deal

After a nine-year odyssey, retired footballer David Beckham scored a key victory Thursday when Miami commissioners voted 4-1 to lease 73 acres of city-owned land for a Major League Soccer stadium and commercial center, a massive complex that will host home games for Inter Miami.

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The City of Miami commission meeting was dragging on into Hour 4 on Thursday, heading toward nightfall, as commissioners and Inter Miami owners Jorge and Jose Mas hashed out the details of the Miami Freedom Park proposal, which eventually passed on a 4-1 vote.

All of a sudden, during one of Joe Carollo’s long-winded requests for updates to the deal, he mentioned something that perked the ears of every University of Miami sports fan in the room and surely those watching the live stream, as well.

Carollo floated the idea of having the UM football team share the new stadium with the Inter Miami soccer team.

The Hurricanes currently play in Hard Rock Stadium, the 65,000-seat Miami Gardens venue which they share with the Miami Dolphins. The school signed a 25-year contract with the stadium in 2008 that runs through 2033 after spending 71 years at the historic Orange Bowl.

UM students must travel 25 miles from campus to the stadium, making the gameday commute one of the longest in college football nationwide. The proposed Miami Freedom Park is approximately six miles from campus.

“Obviously, the stadium would have to grow larger, from the 27,000 to 28,000 that they’re planning to 45,000 or 50,000, but I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the University of Miami and the City of Miami to have in a new stadium soccer, international soccer and the University of Miami football,” Carollo said.

The Hurricanes averaged 43,698 fans at Hard Rock Stadium last season. Their best attendance at that venue was in 2018, when they drew 61,469 per game. It is possible UM could work out a deal where they play a few high-profile games at Hard Rock and the rest at the new stadium.

The commissioner and former mayor added that he would give the Mas brothers 90 days to talk to UM and determine whether the school wants to join the deal or not. Jorge Mas said he and his brother will explore the possibility with university officials.

UM athletic director Dan Radakovich, reached on campus Friday, said he is amenable to discussing the idea.

“I am excited about the opportunity to look into this,” Radakovich said of the Inter Miami-UM joint stadium idea. “Jose and his brother, Jorge, are incredible benefactors of the institution, and specifically athletics, so with this great news for them, we certainly want to look at it and see if we can be a part of the project down the road.”

If the new stadium is completed by the target date of March 2025, UM would have nine seasons remaining on its Hard Rock Stadium lease. So, the school would have to negotiate a way to break that lease.

Jose Mas is on the UM Board of Trustees, and both brothers were instrumental in hiring Mario Cristobal as the Hurricanes’ football coach.

“I’m an alum, my brother and I love the University of Miami, especially my brother, who’s very engaged in the athletic program at the university now,” Jorge Mas said. “I think there would be no better home, or at least explore the possibility of having the football team at the new stadium for a multitude of reasons, such as its proximity to campus.

“One of the worst parts of the Marlins deal, besides what it did to the taxpayers, is it took the University of Miami out of that site and out of the Orange Bowl. That was a travesty for the City of Miami. So, I hope to return University of Miami to our city.”

Earlier at the meeting, when Carollo brought up the idea, Mas replied:

“Hopefully, [UM] can make a decision in the next 90 days if they’d like to house the University of Miami football team [at Miami Freedom Park]. There would be nothing that would make us prouder. We’ve been very engaged with the football program over the past few months, and we’ll be very active. There’s nothing I’d be more proud of than not only having Inter Miami playing in Miami Freedom Park but also having our Miami Hurricanes playing there.”

The idea of a joint stadium for Inter Miami and UM is not a new one.

On May 22, 2015, before the Mas brothers got involved with Inter Miami, the team’s other owner, soccer icon David Beckham, his then-partners and Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber met with outgoing UM president Donna Shalala for three hours at a Coral Gables office building to explore the possibility of a joint stadium for a Miami MLS team and Hurricanes football.

They also met with then-Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez for nearly an hour. The group emerged from the meetings and Gimenez said, “They’re running out of time. They want to come to Miami. But it has to work for them, too. If they can’t get it done here, they may have to go somewhere else.’’

Inter Miami wound up building its training facility and temporary stadium in Fort Lauderdale, on the former site of Lockhart Stadium.

At the time, the Miami Herald reported that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross makes “more than $4 million annually in revenue” from Canes football as a tenant but “will be receptive to negotiating terms,” according to UM sources. UM does not pay rent, but the sides split revenue from game days.

This story was originally published April 29, 2022 5:18 PM.

Miami Herald sportswriter Michelle Kaufman has covered 14 Olympics, six World Cups, Wimbledon, U.S. Open, NCAA Basketball Tournaments, NBA Playoffs, Super Bowls and has been the soccer writer and University of Miami basketball beat writer for 25 years. She was born in Frederick, Md., and grew up in Miami.