Developers contacted by city for Watson Island project
By Paola Iuspa
City officials have started contacting developers and advertising for plans to redevelop the northwest quadrant of Watson Island, an 86-acre man-made island in Biscayne Bay connecting downtown Miami and Miami Beach, city officials said.
Proposals for a mega-yacht marina are due by June 20 at Miami City Hall, 3500 Pan American Drive.
Developers who respond to the city need to come up with a design for a marina to house vessels 80 feet or larger and other water-related buildings on 10.8 acres of open space and 13.4 acres of submerged land with a depth from 8 to 15 feet, according to a city document.
The selected developer could plan, design, construct, lease and manage the development if approved later by voters, according to city officials. The proposal selected by the city commission would be placed on ballot for public referendum on Nov. 6.
Arleen Weintraub, acting director of the Department of Real Estate & Economic Development, said about 1,300 letters inviting developers listed in the city's database went out last week.
She said her department also placed print ads seeking plans in real estate and boating publications nationwide and in the Wall Street Journal and will market the idea at the upcoming local boat show.
"We also contacted the professional trade association of developers and posted the request for proposals on the city's website," Ms. Weintraub said.
The island's prime waterfront location and Miami as an international destination are the "key words" city officials are stressing in the ads, she said.
"This is one of Miami's most exciting waterfront properties," said City Manager Carlos Gimenez. "It is a pure waterfront. That side of the island is pristine and perfect for a world class attraction."
Commissioner Joe Sanchez said the marina would help Miami capitalize in a "billion dollar industry" the city now is losing to Fort Lauderdale.
The island is planned to become home to Parrot Jungle, the Miami Children's Museum and the Greater Miami Regional Visitors Center. Plans also include an expansion of the current aviation facility.
The city will lease out the northwest quadrant of the island for 45 years, with an option for two 15-year renewals, according to a city document.
The developer must complement the marina with a hotel, restaurants, retail stores, a theater, recreational, cultural or educational facilities, according to requirements set by the city. The development is to include continuous parks, plazas and walkways.
Robert Parente, member of the Waterfront Advisory Committee, which was created by the city commission to advise on waterfront development, said a marina was an acceptable use for that corner of the island.
Mr. Parente said he supported the project with the condition that the southern quadrant facing the Port of Miami zoned for park use would remain a public park.
"The port was interested in building cruise terminals there," he said. "I, and the committee, were against it. They had a proposal but they never came back with a formal one before a Nov. 30 deadline."
Mr. Parente said although the marina, museum and visitor center, among others, were taking away public land, it seemed to be a good deal.
"It is a good trade-off," he said. "It brings revenues to the city that can be used to develop a park at the other end so families can come and see the cruise ships and the seaplanes."
Mr. Sanchez said he also wanted a park in the island and would "oppose any development in that corner."
Although there have been many attempts to redevelop the island after the island's master plan was drafted in the early 1980s, none of them progressed, Mr. Parente said.
Mr. Gimenez said it was a lack of consensus that kept development away.
"We have had the island for almost 50 years," he said. "There wasn't a consensus of what developments to allow in the island. Lately city officials realized they needed to do something to attract people to the island, to convert it into a destination place," and not just to pass through.
About 80,000 cars daily traverse the island via the MacArthur Causeway.
Mr. Gimenez said the community would benefit from the marina as many other companies poised to serve the mega-yacht industry would move to the area bringing new jobs opportunities.
"It will need catering services, meeting places, repair shops and others," he said.
Martin Tritt, who has been operating a fuel station and fishing supplies shop in the island's northwest corner for 22 years, said he feared so much development would cause an overflow of traffic on the causeway, crippling access in and out of Miami Beach.
"I think they have three ambitious projects in the island but no idea of the traffic they will generate. All of a sudden, these politicians feel they have to do everything at once."
Mr. Tritt, who said he was on a month-to-month lease with the city, said he would be forced to move his business somewhere else when a developer get awarded a contract to build the marina.
"Watson Island is the only waterfront park people can come and don't need to pay $8 in parking like in Bayside," he said. "People should not be deprived of their waterfront parks. The city already closed down the public bathrooms here few years ago."
Developers interested in participating in the city's request for proposals need to send a written request to the city's Department of Real Estate & Economic Development at 444 SE Second Ave., together with a $300 check.