Inter Miami CF have been in a celebratory mood in recent weeks, rattling off four straight wins across all competitions.
But the joyous energy reached another level Thursday night, with a long-term lease agreement approved for the club to build a privately-funded 25,000-seat stadium as part of the Miami Freedom Park project.
Several hurdles remain before shovels are in the ground, but the 4-1 vote from the Miami City Commission represents a community-altering moment for soccer in the Magic City, chief soccer officer and sporting director Chris Henderson told MLSsoccer.com.
“You look at the stadiums with great atmospheres around the league, it's about the fans coming, it's about them being part of something, whether it's a march to the match or tailgating outside,” Henderson said. “It's a great opportunity for us to have the epicenter of soccer in South Florida and all eyes really on Miami being a global city.”
The site, which will be located near the Miami International Airport, contains the single largest public park in the city and other commercial and community spaces. There’s also the possibility of the University of Miami’s football program playing there, which could impact the stadium’s final capacity.
Inter Miami are eyeing a 2025 launch and still need zoning changes to be approved, with environmental cleanup necessary as well of what's currently Melreese golf course. But given the road to this point, there’s serious momentum to bring Major League Soccer into the 305 proper.
“This will be a place for our fans, our community to build traditions for generations,” Henderson said. “It's for fathers to bring their children, mothers to bring their children and be part of something. We want to keep those transformational moments for our fans and our players that we can share together. Having a place like Miami Freedom Park is where those memories will be made.”
Inter Miami have been competing at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, about a 40-minute drive from where their new venue will be located. The Herons will remain there at least through 2024 on the present timeline, with their training ground and facilities remaining for use by Inter Miami’s academy program, MLS NEXT Pro side and senior team.
The developments will only make Henderson’s job easier, he notes, as IMCF look to build upon their 2020 entry into the league. Players, especially from abroad, already strongly desire to play in Miami. Now, the project would be only more appealing to them.
“Right now we have what I feel is the best training facility in the league and we use that as part of our recruitment pitch today,” Henderson said. “We show players and many comments we get is it's as good as any place in the world. Ownership, their commitment to the facilities side to support our first team, academy, second team – it's top.
“Now the new stadium, I'm sure we'll be in the same ballpark with how it helps recruit players. Everything will be state-of-the-art and at a high level globally. All of that put together and building a team that can be sustainable and successful over the long-term, that's the goal of the club and eventually winning trophies.”
Miami Freedom Park, once completed, would join a groundswell of stadium investments across the league. By 2023, as venues launch in Nashville and St. Louis, there will be 26 stadiums built or reimagined for MLS clubs.
The Herons getting their own “cathedral,” as Henderson phrased it, after ownership drove the project ahead? It’ll be just another step forward for the beautiful game in the US and Canada.
"For me, it's a transformational moment for the city of Miami, Inter Miami as a club, all of South Florida's soccer community and for MLS,” Henderson said. “It really is a legacy for Jorge and Jose Mas, the Mas family, David Beckham."