The Astroturfery Behind the Failed Beckham Stadium Plan

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In case you don’t follow me on twitter or already read Vice Sports, here’s a link to my up close look at how and why Beckham has failed to get a stadium deal done in Miami (so far). For the record, it was edited by the excellent Eric Nusbaum and the elucidating Patrick Hruby. Like all kinda long stories that require original research, there’s little snippets and footnotes along the way.

One of the footnotes that I want to share is the story of the “Downtown Neighbors Alliance.” ‘Tis a class tale of astroturfery, snobby rich people problems, and a Mayor’s flooded inbox.

For those who haven’t read the Vice story yet, Becks proposed a stadium at PortMiami which was voted down. In large part, that’s because Royal Caribbean created a shady, astroturf organization called the “Miami Seaport Alliance” which was really just them and a union buddy. However, you can’t start a lobbying group called “Our Own Selfish Self-interest” and expect people to take you seriously. Unless your last name is Koch.

Beckham’s second stadium proposal, off Biscayne Boulevard and near American Airlines arena, set off another enemy: downtown condo owners upset about traffic and the fact the stadium would block their views of the by. The traffic argument was debunked by Beckham’s traffic expert but here’s the deal: the MLS regular season is short, the games are spread out, and the stadium would seat around 30,000 max. Also, a new tunnel recently opened nearby. Thus, the real concern was the view. Rich people bought condos, were sold on lies, and now their investment (and quality of life) were jeopardized.

I agonized over whether and how to publish these emails. On the one hand, they are a public record. Anybody can file a request to get them. On the other hand, I’ve sent some angry emails to websites, editors, congressmen, and crusty old Academic Deans. At the very least, I wouldn’t want those curt, crass, profanity-laden emails to show up on a Google search under my name. Thus, I’ve decided to crop and put images of the emails up here, with the email address blacked out. I will also only refer to first names when mocking them (unless absolutely necessary).

For starters, here’s a tame one from Martha aka “Marty”:

This is pretty altruistic – she displays her concern for those poor residents of condos along Biscayne Boulevard. Because a 25,000 or 30,000 seat stadium would really eat up more visual space than American Airlines Arena? She, of course, is right that these condo owners would rather see the bay than a soccer stadium. They can also defend themselves. (Editor’s note: I cropped out her address – she is not one of the condo owners).

The following is my favorite email from Lynn. Her email is blacked out, but he/she is such a bad ass she emailed from her work address (also with the county government).

Did you catch the subtle threat at the end? This is not your run-of-the-mill Lynn you can push around or ignore. Rather, this Lynn is VOTER WHO IS REGISTERED. In case you missed it, Mr. Mayor, a voter who is registered is perhaps prepared to vote differently should you approve a stadium in Biscayne Bay. YOU WILL NOW DO EVERYTHING I SAY OR THIS THREAT OF A SINGLE VOTE WILL SCYTHE YOU DOWN.

Now, onto the cranky condo owners, or, rather, the “Downtown Neighbors Alliance.” Now, because this email is purportedly from a group lobbying, I have no qualms about including emails or full names. Basically, Donald Campbell is the General Manager for the Castle Group, Miami Real Estate developers who were responsible for MarinaBlue, a condo off Biscayne Boulevard. And…well….just read the email.

“Downtown Neighbors Alliance” aka one condo with a bunch of angry residents. As the email notes, these are not just any condominiums, they are “luxury condominiums.” Now, let’s put our cynicism to one side. Yes, we know that oftentimes stadiums create few permanent full-time jobs and are really the wagging tail of the dog of gentrification. However, assuming Simon Kuper’s argument is true that local sports teams make fans and communities happy when they win, what would you do in this situation: build a stadium to house a team to make lots of people happy and sacrifice orphans, the poor, puppies, poor orphaned puppies, or cranky old luxury condo owners in South Florida? I know my pick.

Mr. Campbell’s call to arms was followed by many residents who signed the noble Downtown Soccer Alliance petition. Here’s the resolution and some particular comments:

Did you cringe at the first paragraph about “violence” and “soccer”? Yeah, I’m guessing none of these people have gone to an MLS home game, where you’re more likely to get hugged by a gracious opposing fan than mugged by a hooligan. Still, the “soccer as otherness and seed of violence” argument persists despite, like, a bunch of Hispanics being born in America, loving America, growing up with soccer, and loving soccer. Ergo, lots of Americans love soccer. In fact, in the comments section to my VICE article, some dude claimed that ISIS liked soccer. In reality, a profile of their leader, Abu Bakr-Bagdadi, revealed he played soccer as a youth and was a pretty good defender: impossible to dribble around. Imagine Alvaro Arbeloa with the same long legs but better lateral movement and a fanatical take on Islam and the Prophet’s teachings.

But just because violent people from other countries like a sport does not taint the sport. What if Ray Rice was from another country? Should we all stop liking the NFL (if you haven’t already)?

Back to the astroturfery: my favorite “concerned resident” comment is actually #7, from Mr. Campbell himself. In a petition emailed to the Mayor of Miami-Dade County, he claims that “City Hall has gone too far.” City Hall. Not County Hall. City Hall. In reality, the City of Miami Beach held a townhall and issued a resolution against the downtown stadiums. What kind of a man sends an email to a County Mayor complaining about city hall? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing he listens to Rush Limbaugh, watches Bill O’Reilly, hates Rolling Stone, and hasn’t voted Democrat since the 1970′s (Shakes fist, ‘Curse you LBJ!’).

The petition was not enough, though. Many luxury condominium residents sent in angry emails to the Mayor. Here’s the most tactful and polite one from Dave:

Complete sentences. A “Thank you” and a “Kind regards”. Coherent arguments. Dave takes the cake. What I love about this email, though, is the acronym for the Downtown Neighbors Alliance: DNA. Confused? Did you think DNA meant something else? No, contrary to belief, DNA is no longer the scientific term for the building blocks of all life on Earth. This is much more important. These are luxury condo owners with a view. And working internet.

This last one is from Lucy, and really gets to the heart of the matter:

Pause and genuinely reflect on the AOL username of “Snowstorm” for somebody who lives in a luxury condominium in Miami. I…am…speechless. (Pause). The frenetic “…”, the claims of hollow promises by greedy condo developers, the lack of capital letters (aside from Marina Blue, AAA, and Marlins), what’s not to love about this email? You won’t find this passionate a prose in your Franzen or your Foer novels, you pipsqueak. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe an entire development project that could make 25,000 fans happy a night really should bow to luxury condo owners.

In all seriousness and to be fair, lots of worthwhile organizations like the Audubon Society and Sierra Club expressed concerns to the Mayor about Team Beckham filling in the bay and boat slip to build a stadium. Those are respectable organizations, so mad respect. Apparently, they were worried about dolphins and manatees and really, who isn’t? Did researching the VICE article leave me somewhat cynical on local politics? Naw. I was already skeptical – the more local the politics, the less people know, the larger the disinterest, and the more immediate the implications. That’s just the irony of American politics. Until a billionaire tries to build a stadium to block your million dollar condo’s view of a bay, you normally don’t give two shits. Name the County Commissioner for the district where you live. Can you? Meh. Me neither.

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