MIAMI – It’s been a half a decade in the making, marked by myriad fits and starts, but MLS’s return to south Florida is finally approaching reality. On Friday, majority owner Jorge Mas marked another step on that long journey by discussing Inter Miami CF’s upcoming debut in front of a packed international audience at the Soccerex convention at Marlins Park.
And the baseball stadium in the city’s Little Havana neighborhood might well end up hosting another Inter Miami milestone in a year and a half, as Mas revealed that it’s a leading possibility to serve as the club’s temporary home starting with its expansion bow in 2020.
“It’s a contender,” said Mas of Marlins Park, a $634-million, retractable-roof facility that opened in 2012 and regularly hosts international soccer matches despite having an MLB team as its primary tenant.
“From the beginning I’ve said that our options are Marlins Park, Hard Rock Stadium, [Florida International University]. We’ve looked at potentially playing some games up at FAU [Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton], more maybe geared towards a broader fanbase in terms of South Florida. This is a beautiful facility here; we’re in conversations with all of the groups involved. Personally, I like this facility, I wouldn’t mind being here. The big advantage here is we’re a Miami team and this is in the city of Miami.”
One of the city’s leading Cuban-American business magnates, Mas also joked that he also likes Marlins Park because he can see it from his office. Though cohabitating with a baseball team poses scheduling and logistical complications, this particular one was built with soccer in mind and can host a wider pitch than other ballparks.
In the longer term, the new club is most excited about their permanent home, a soccer-specific facility that anchors the proposed Miami Freedom Park at the Melreese site near Miami International Airport. The project got a major boost on election day last week, when voters roundly approved a ballot initiative clearing the city to negotiate a 99-year lease on the site for the stadium and an adjacent park and commercial complex.
Mas said Inter hope to break ground on the project by the end of the year, and could move into the venue as early as mid-2021. Based on his description of Inter’s stadium plans, fans can expect a comfortable, cutting-edge experience, with canopies shielding spectators from South Florida’s tropical sun and rain, digital viewing screens on the exterior, local-oriented food and drink options and other amenities to make gamedays an immersive experience, and a capacity of 25-28,000.
“I want people to spend hours at the game, not to go to the match and just go home,” said Mas.
Separate from Miami Freedom Park, Inter also plan to build a training complex for both their first team and academy squads with “anywhere from eight to 13 or 14 full-size fields,” said Mas. He envisions that facility spanning 20 to 25 acres and said that the club is in talks with several area municipalities about potential sites.
There’s a sense of urgency to clinch that deal as well as the club’s temporary match venue, because as long as it’s taken to reach this point, there’s really not all that much time left before Inter Miami take the field.
“That’s something we need to get going, because we’re going to have players a year from now, and they’re going to need somewhere to train,” said Mas, whose presentation ended with loud applause after he laid out an ambitious vision for his hometown’s long-awaited return to MLS.
“Everything we’ve done, from our team colors, from our design, from trying to capture the passion of our city, from doing something great with a stadium project which is breaking the mold, I think, for how stadiums are built in the United States, we wanted to do it different,” he said. “I believe in MLS, I believe in football and more than that, I believe in my city. I believe in Miami and I want to do something that’s iconic and leaves a legacy for future generations of football and soccer fans.”