Watson Island mega-yacht proposal seen smoothing waterfront, City of Miami tiesBy Catherine Lackner
A request for proposals for a mega-yacht marina on Watson Island last month represents a breakthrough in relations between City of Miami officials and the city's Waterfront Advisory Board, says Robert Parente, board chairman.
"I appreciated the city's attentiveness and willingness to listen," he said. "They didn't draw a line in the sand and say, 'This is as far as we'll go.' Business facts are business facts. In my opinion, the city's making the right move."
The request, approved Dec. 14 by the Miami City Commission for issuance Jan. 8, represents the fruition of more than two years' work by the waterfront board and the city's department of Real Estate & Economic Development.
The marina, one of a plethora of projects planned for the 86-acre island just east of downtown Miami, will cater to vessels 65 feet and larger. It will be set on the key's northwest quadrant on 25 acres considered under-utilized now. Commercial fishing, charter services and a fish market might be included in the marina design, according to the request for proposals.
Proposals might also include entertainment, educational or cultural buildings; a hotel; restaurants; theaters; retail; privately owned or operated playgrounds, parks, beaches or art galleries, and auxiliary facilities such as parking and professional offices.
But the only required use is the mega-yacht marina, resolving a bone of contention between city staffers and the waterfront board.
In October, the city's real estate department proffered a request for proposals that, while mandating a marine use, fell short of requiring the project to be primarily a marina or mega-yacht marina.
"We would restrict uses to marine, entertainment, recreational, cultural and retail," said Dena Bianchino, Miami assistant city manager for real estate and economic development.
But the waterfront board, fearing developers might build a "Hotel Cocowalk" unless directed otherwise, objected.
"For 2« years, the waterfront board has tried to convince staff that a mega-yacht marina was the right use, and it didn't go anywhere," Mr. Parente said then. Suddenly, he said, the board was asked to endorse a request for proposals it hadn't had time to review. He accused the city of a stop-and-start approach to Watson Island projects.
"The frustrations of the past," he said, "should not cause us to jump the gun."
City commissioners agreed, directing the city and the waterfront panel back to the drawing boards in November.
"We must use our advisory boards or else get rid of them," Commissioner Johnny Winton said.
City officials say they would like to proceed with the request for proposals so that the city's development team would be in place should voters endorse a Nov. 6 referendum.
To that end, a pre-submission conference and site tour has been scheduled Feb. 20 in preparation for the June 4 submission deadline.
The city's real estate department is to conclude its review Aug. 10 and hold a public workshop to explore the proposals in early September. City Manager Carlos Gimenez is to present the recommended proposal, if any, to the city commission Sept. 13. If the city has a favorable proposal, the question is to be placed on the ballot.
"One of the key components is going to be returns to the city," Mr. Parente said. "If all the proposals come in with a very dismal return, I think you'll hear the commission say 'Forget it.' Just because we put out an RFP doesn't mean we have to accept anything that comes in."
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