Numerous outlets are reporting international soccer superstar Lionel Messi is finally joining Inter Miami CF. Last November, REDBROWARD reported, ““Inter Miami are close to agreeing a deal with Lionel Messi, with the US club confident that the Argentina superstar will sign after the World Cup here in Qatar. The Miami franchise, which is co-owned by David Beckham, expect Messi to move from Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the European season, in a deal that will make the 35-year-old the highest-paid player in the history of MLS.” The MLS franchise plays in the former Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.
When news of the Messi signing broke early Wednesday, MLS teams reported a run on ticket purchases for games with Inter Miami. Thousands and thousands of fans and media will make the trek to Fort Lauderdale just to see Lionel Messi play in person. Just one problem—There may not be enough parking spots for the media and fans.
And they can thank Fort Lauderdale Commissioner John Herbst and his predecessor, Heather Moraitis.
Since his election last year, Herbst has waged war against David Beckham and Inter Miami. Herbst, the former City auditor, seems upset with the deal city leaders forged with Beckham. Herbst and his allies want the team to fulfill a promise to build a park on land next to the stadium.
Back in 2021, REDBROWARD exposed the hypocrisy of Heather Moraitis when dealing with the MLS franchise.
On August 20, 2021, Heather Moraitis launched her first attack on David Beckham and Inter Miami in a Sun-Sentinel story. According to the story, Moraitis feared a “sweetheart deal” which allowed Inter Miami to build a stadium (at the team’s expense) on the city owned Lockhart Stadium site would “turn into one of the worst failures of her political career.” Moraitis was angered when she learned Inter Miami was pursuing a National Womens Soccer League (NWSL) team. While the NWSL team would play at DRV PINK, Moraitis feared some of the empty forty acres of land on the stadium site would be used for the women’s team.
As part of the Lockhart Stadium deal, Inter Miami CF agreed to build a park on some of the land located along Commercial Boulevard by 2022. Once the deal was signed, Heather Moraitis controlled to process to figure out what would be built on the site. Moraitis held numerous meetings for “community input” to decide final plans for the park. This has lead to constantly changing plans. At one Fort Lauderdale Commission workshop, REDBROWARD heard Moraitis advocate for an “e-sports arena” on the site.
Yet, in the Sun-Sentinel article, Heather Moraitis blamed Beckham for the delay in building the park. She badmouthed the NWSL idea as a “surprise” and compared it to a broken promise. “There is no way I am giving them 1 inch of land,” Moraitis said.
Less than a week later, Heather Moraitis’ attacks on David Beckham and Inter Miami went global. David Beckham, a former captain of England and a Manchester United great, is an international superstar. Surely Moraitis and her team should have expected the international media to react when she accused him of reneging on a deal with Fort Lauderdale. In the British newspaper, The Guardian, Moraitis said, “It seems like an empty promise. I understand everyone has a bottom line and they want to make money, but you can’t do it on the backs of the people.” She complained the area was fenced off and used for parking. Longtime soccer and high school football fans know the area has always been used as a parking lot.
Moraitis told The Guardian that the team “stalled for two years.” She failed to mention her endless community meetings, her changing plans for the site or even COVID-19 lockdown.
“It seems like an empty promise,” Moraitis said. “I’m not even sure David Beckham knows what’s going on…My city feels let down.”
In a 2021 response to Moraitis’ attacks, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis exposed her hypocrisy in a blistering power point presentation at a commission workshop. Trantalis told the Sun-Sentinel Moraitis had embarrassed the City and David Beckham without justification. “We understand through his partners that he was extremely embarrassed and felt betrayed by the comments of the vice mayor,” Trantalis said. “It hurt his reputation.”
Trantalis told Moraitis, “We cannot diss people in the public, especially in the international press.”
Trantalis methodically deconstructed Heather Moraitis’ attacks on Beckham and Inter Miami. He called Moraitis’ attack an “unprecedented media campaign” which “made misstatements about the city and its relationship with the Inter Miami soccer team and its ownership.” Trantalis said, “Statements implied that they were made on behalf of city government and the City Commission even though they were not.”
Trantalis stated the Moraitis attacks were featured in The Guardian, The Daily Mail, the Daily Express and The Times of London as well as foreign language media.
Dean Trantalis demonstrated who was to blame for any delay when he revealed the numerous different proposals for the park created by Heather Moraitis.
On September 13th, Heather Moraitis and her allies ran crying to the Sun-Sentinel. Moraitis called Trantalis’ presentation an “intimidation tactic” designed to silence her. “I feel like you’re trying to silence me,” Moraitis told the mayor. “My people want a park. I am going to shout from the rooftop of City Hall. I will not be silenced.”
Moraitis told the Sun-Sentinel, “Every single thing I said I meant and I stand by it. If they want to change the 20 acres, to me that’s a broken promise.”
Heather Moraitis was shocked by Trantalis’ claim she had lunch with David Beckham. “I never had lunch with David Beckham,” she said. “I refused to meet with him before the vote. I didn’t want anyone to say I approved the deal because I was star-struck.”
While Heather Moraitis may have declined lunch with David Beckham, campaign records show she happily took the soccer superstar’s money.
While her 2020 re-election campaign did not receive contributions from Inter Miami CF, David Beckham or his partners, State records show they were generous donors to Heather Moraitis’ State political committee. Election records show the Serving Florida political committee was formed in January 2020. While based in Tallahassee, the chairman of Serving Florida is George R. Moraitis of Fort Lauderdale. Heather Moraitis is married to George Reynold Moraitis, a former State Representative.
While she now calls it a “sweetheart deal,” Heather Moraitis celebrated the Lockhart deal with Inter Miami on the Serving Florida website. According to the website, “Heather’s signature projects as a city commissioner include bringing David Beckham’s Inter Miami soccer team–successfully revitalizing Lockhart Park–and creating an aviation and aerospace technical program in partnership with Broward County Public Schools.”
Just two months after it was created, campaign records show Serving Florida received contributions from companies and individuals with business in the City of Fort Lauderdale.
In March 2020, Serving Florida picked up more than $7,000 from Miami Beckham United, Inter Miami, Mastec and Inter Miami lawyer/lobbyist Stephanie Toothaker.
Now, John Herbst has taken up Moraitis’ crusade against Inter Miami CF.
In March, Herbst told the Sun-Sentinel, “I was not involved in negotiating the deal.” He said, “Auditors do not negotiate deals. I don’t recall if I commented on the deal terms at the time. I thought it was a very bad deal, but they were so gung-ho on getting David Beckham to come to town.”
In the same story, the Sun-Sentinel reported the City of Fort Lauderdale collected $275,000 in parking fees last year from Inter Miami. The amount of cars and parking fees would surely grow with Messi on the Inter Miami CF pitch. Is John Herbst “gung-ho” about increased revenues to the City?
Last month, Herbst lead the charge to close the overflow parking lots at DRV PINK stadium. The team accused Herbst of having a “hidden agenda.” “This decision was made by the city without giving Inter Miami due process; there was no notice or opportunity to be heard, a basic tenet of our open and democratic process,” a team lawyer wrote. “We will not be blackmailed, bullied or intimidated by Commissioner Herbst … We will let the facts and the record show, via an open and impartial process, through mediation or litigation if so required, the merits of our claims.”
Inter Miami refused to pay the City and the lots were closed.
Herbst told WPLG Channel 10 “They will have to make alternative arrangements for their patrons to park.”
Will John Herbst keep fans from watching Lionel Messi in person?
Does John Herbst have a “hidden agenda?”