Historic Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium
Jon van Woerden Photography
The New Lockhart Courtesy of Inter-Miami CF
Those fortunate enough to be in attendance for Inter Miami’s home opener against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday will be witness to something akin to a South Florida soccer miracle when they set eyes on the former Lockhart Stadium site in Fort Lauderdale.
It was just over a year ago, in late January 2019, when Inter Miami announced its plan to raze Lockhart and build an 18,000-seat stadium and training facility that would house the MLS team, its youth academy, and play host to visiting teams from around the world. The idea of it was so shocking and brilliant that elected officials in Fort Lauderdale had to double-down to make it a reality in time for the 2020 season. Which they did.
And then, once approved by the Mayor and Commissioners, Inter Miami owner Jorge Mas had to spend upwards of $100 million to clear the nature preserve that had sprouted on what was once the Lockhart pitch. With upwards of 700 hard-hat workers re-making the site at any given time since last summer, the Inter Miami CF Stadium and Training Center will become fully operational on Saturday, just 411 days since Mas declared his intention to set up base in Fort Lauderdale. And six years since David Beckham hatched the notion of fielding an MLS team in Miami, where plans for a stadium at Freedom Park remain just that – plans.
Miracles do happen and this gleaming new ground is proof. To steal blatantly from the late Joe McGinness, call it The Miracle of Castel de Mas.
“This is unbelievable,” long-time Broward County soccer promoter Eddie Rodger told me on a recent tour of a site that owes much of its history to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Miami Fusion. “Look at the turn it’s taken, from being deserted to this.”
Of all the people who made this soccer reclamation possible, few stand out more than Rodger, who begins his fifth decade in Broward soccer as Director of Business Development and Events for Inter Miami. It was Mas’s money that paid for it, but it was Rodger, along with long-time soccer coach Munga Eketebi, who first brought the 64-acre Lockhart parcel to the attention of Inter Miami Sporting Director Paul McDonough in late 2018.
McDonough had come to Broward to share Inter’s plan of operating a youth-soccer academy that would be offered at no cost to select South Florida players and their families. Eketebi was present at that meeting and afterwards told McDonough he should take a look at Lockhart, which had been dormant since the third iteration of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers left in 2016.
Rodger helped facilitate the site visit and McDonough saw in that empty parcel the ideal location for building a training facility that closely resembles the one he had at Atlanta United FC, his previous club. McDonough pried Mas from his Coral Gables office for a visit, and the shrubs and insects inhabiting the Lockhart turf didn’t stand a chance from that point on.
“After talking to me, Munga and Paul, [Mas] said this needs to be up here,” Rodger said. “They knew they needed an area like this. They had a vision [for the training site]. They didn’t have the property.”
Rodger credits McDonough with giving the Lockhart site another soccer life, one that could have a transformative effect on Broward County as a futbol destination in this hemisphere, and even globally. Rodger said teams from Colombia, Argentina, and Spain have toured the facility and intend to train there in the near future. The first of what will likely be many friendlies at the stadium – Honduras vs. Czech Republic – is scheduled for March 29.
The Atlanta United training facility is located in the suburb of Marietta, 20 miles from Atlanta, roughly the distance between Fort Lauderdale and north Miami. It provided the foundation for what McDonough envisioned for Inter Miami, a stand-alone, full-service training ground owned and operated by the club.
“That’s the Taj Mahal,” Rodger said, facing the two-story, 50,000-square-foot building located between the stadium’s North Stand and the six training fields. “The upper deck at the west end has a full kitchen banquet area. There are locker rooms for the big team and the USL team. In the middle is the gymnasium and then a performance center. The team staff will be here: players, administrative, medical, equipment. Marketing/PR will be in Miami.”
The difference between here and the Atlanta United training site is the MLS-ready stadium that will be Inter Miami’s home until Freedom Park is eventually built. When fans arrive on Saturday, they’ll find the Fan Fiesta area on a sprawling plaza at the south end, with food trucks, a small turf field, kids games, and live entertainment.
Unlike Lockhart, the playing surface inside the stadium faces north-south. It’s 120 by 78 yards, with a plane of grass that’s as fine as a country-club fairway. The three official Supporters Groups – The Siege, Vice City 1896, and Southern Legion – will dance, jump, sing and raise their fists in the North Stand, which Rodger said has room for 3,300 ticket holders.
“The seats will be bolted upright for the supporters groups. They’ll be returned to seating position for other matches,” he noted.
Rodger said there are 6,200 seats in the East Stand with 39 rows and nine walkways from ground-level. There are two stairwells on the backside that provide alternative exit ramps. The South Stand behind one of the goals has 3,000 seats, with the top 10 rows in the upper southeast corner reserved for visiting teams, as required by MLS.
The West Stand has 6,100 seats above the ground-level suites, which flank the Inter Miami and visiting team’s benches. Mas’s field-level owner’s suite is next to the Inter Miami bench, within shouting distance of manager Diego Alonso. Just win, baby. The press box at the top of the West Stand has room for 70 press members. Rodger said an auxiliary section for 200 press members will be available the first game.
The East and West Stands are partially under the cover of rooftops that will shield the sun and rain and magnify the sound after an Inter Miami goal. Rodger said, “We tested it. It’s gonna be loud.”
The VIP seats are placed around the midfield area in the West Stand, above the suites and near the two-story Club building in the northwest corner that is open to sponsors, suite owners, and high-end ticket holders. Rodger said the building can accommodate 2,200 people, with service for food and drinks, and a field-level terrace for watching the game.
Will the VIPs remain seated in the West Stand and be part of the heated rabble that gasps and groans and cheers every near chance and goal? Or will they gather amongst themselves, sipping mojitos and Argentine Malbecs in the air-conditioned swellness of the Club? We’ll find out Saturday and in the weeks and seasons to come.
Images of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers from the late '77 through their departure to Minnesota.
Covers NASL Soccer Bowl games 1978, 1979, 1980
Along with NASL Friendlies, and WC games against Canada and Mexico.
Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium!
From its days as The Striker's home pitch, through the Fort Lauderdale Sun and the 2nd generation of the NASL Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
Now with its Demolition,
Inter-Miami CF plans for the New
Long-time South Florida Sun-Sentinel soccer columnist Jeff Rusnak joins to discuss the rich past, transitional present and promising future of one of American pro soccer’s most venerable, yet historically underrated venues – Ft. Lauderdale, Florida’s Lockhart Stadium.
1977-1983 Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Interesting story on Broward's first Pro Sports Team. Please visit this and other articles on Florida soccer teams
Courtesy and Thanks to NASL 1968-1984 SOCCER HISTORY
Tim Robbie and Jeff Rusnak on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
Ray Hudson on the Miami Fusion
Courtesy of MLS Insider, MLSSOCCER.com
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