The land that was once Lockhart Stadium is now a construction site. On one recent day, a crane stood towering over crumbled concrete and a site that did not look quite soccer-ready. But a group led by former soccer superstar David Beckham has bright future plans to bring soccer to South Florida, and those plans start at this recently demolished landmark. Beckham’s proposal for a new stadium on the site includes youth soccer fields, a training facility and community activities spaces.
Beckham will be among the owners of Inter Miami CF, the Major League Soccer expansion team that plans to use its own money to build an 18,000-seat stadium that houses the team until its permanent stadium in Miami is finished. Inter Miami plans to have the stadium finished in time for the team to debut in the 2020 season. The team plans to play its first couple seasons in Fort Lauderdale until the new Miami stadium is built; after that, a lower-league Inter Miami affiliate will play in Fort Lauderdale.
“We have every community present in South Florida,” Inter Miami’s Christopher Moramarco says. “We have people who are for and against it, but that’s normal. It’s time we embrace soccer the way the rest of the country, community, and world has. Expect a big turnout.”
Lockhart Stadium opened in 1959 and was used for most of its history as a high school football stadium. But over the years it was also home to several professional soccer teams – most notably, the North American Soccer League’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the 1970s and ’80s.
Located on Commercial Boulevard, the stadium sat vacant for several years while leaders debated what to do with it. A plan to turn the property into a waterpark fell through.
“We’ve had people back out and licensing (and) permitting with the government always creates hurdles,” Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Heather Moraitis says. Moraitis believes the current plan fits the community’s needs.
“Even if someone is not a sports fan, Lockhart will have a lot to offer,” Moraitis says. “This is a big draw for soccer fans, but it’ll also offer young adult programs such as kickball, and there’s been a discussion of video game tournaments.” Plans also call for a pool and, on the south end of the development, a partnership with Broward College for classrooms for therapy students.
“They’re seeking trends to be more modern. But it’s my passion to see a gathering place in the community for all generations,” Moraitis says.
One community that could be better served by the new development is the local high school football community. Neither Fort Lauderdale or Stranahan high schools have on-campus fields that can host varsity football. Neither school plays games inside Fort Lauderdale city limits; the Fort Lauderdale Flying L’s have been playing at Northeast High School in Oakland Park, while the Stranahan Mighty Dragons have recently played many home games at South Plantation High School.
New Lockhart plans would likely include a field suitable for high school football.
“We’ve had to change locations last minute and not having that consistency puts us at a disadvantage,” Stranahan athletic director Thomas Harrison says. “Anything would be better than the situation we have now, and I’m hopeful that our teams will have a place to call home.”
Fort Lauderdale football coach Richard Dunbar III wants fans to know it’s more than a sports facility. “We have to let people know it’s more than a place for sports and physical activities,” Dunbar says. “Students can study here, hang out here, and people can come here to really be informed on what comes in and out of our community.”
Dunbar, a graduate of Fort Lauderdale High who played football at the old Lockhart, has similar beliefs to Harrison. “If we can play at home, it’ll keep us more orientated with the community and for the community.”
Dunbar also wants to bring back the atmosphere to the community.
“The old Lockhart atmosphere was electrifying,” Dunbar says. “I want that atmosphere to come back and be here for the newcomers. I want this all to be a good representation for the community and a place we can all call a home.”
Broward Schools’ director of athletics and student activities Shawn Cerra says a new facility will help bring back that old atmosphere.
“It’ll allow us to draw bigger crowds at games,” Cerra says. “But the overall tourism will increase with more people. More people means more people staying at local hotels, eating at our restaurants; overall this will bring more business and create memories with our families.”
People with deep ties to local soccer are also excited about what’s coming. Antonio Alba coached youth soccer for many years, has attended soccer games around the world and knows a good thing when he sees it.
“I’ve seen games from Copa America to Russia for the World Cup, from Saturday morning games in a local park. A soccer league will benefit our community and fans have been craving for a professional team and an establishment like this to root for,” Alba says.
“We need to give Beckham and the new Lockhart a chance because I’ve seen him bring out the best in the soccer community. When I think or hear of David Beckham, I think class. Beckham brings class to Fort Lauderdale and he will bring the same incredible quality he had as a player to the city and all over South Florida. This is a quality product.”