Flagstone could put 2 hotels on Watson, committee votes
By Paola Iuspa
If Miami city commissioners follow a selection committee's recommendation and voters back them up at the polls, two high-end hotels surrounded by shops and gardens splashed with artwork and a mega-yacht marina could transform Watson Island's northwestern tip.
The next step is for City Manager Carlos Gimenez to come up with recommendations for commissioners. After the manager delivers a report during a special commission meeting at 9:30 am Sept. 17, commissioners are expected to vote for one proposal or none of three.
If they choose one, it would appear on the city's Nov. 6 ballot.
Dena Bianchino, assistant city manager and coordinator of the selection process, said the manager is free to follow - or not - the committee's recommendation.
Of three proposals ranging from $135 million to $280 million to build, the selection committee recommends the city go with a plan by Flagstone Properties.
The $280 million complex proposed by Flagstone promises to bring the city $2 million yearly, with an estimated 3% increase annually, according to the developer's proposal. The city would get 1% of gross revenues beginning after three years of operation and 2.5% of gross revenues from licenses issued to timeshare units, developers vow.
Also under the proposal, Flagstone would pay $1 million a year during construction, which could take up to four years. The city is offering a 45-year lease with options for two, 15-year renewals.
In this scenario, the Flagstone project could have a value of $24 million to $74 million in lease and tax revenue for the city, according to a report by Abramson & Associates Inc., a city-hired consultant.
Members of the committee, which met five times since late July and held about 20 hours of public meeting, said they recommended the Flagstone plan because its design matched the surroundings and the financial return to the city was the highest.
The plan features two hotels. One would be 16 stories and sport the shape of a wave and the other 24 stories using a lighthouse motif.
The developer, based in Miami and Orlando, would feature a 48-slip marina for yachts 80 feet or longer.
"The Flagstone project has great urban design," said Craig Robins, committee chair. "It has a great street life. I like the urban and architectural design there. And I thought that might be the most practical use and the most clearly and potentially viable."
Tom Correll, a committee member, questioned the functionality of Flagstone's marina, but Ms. Bianchino said the city would have time to negotiate any changes after a project is approved by voters.
Also competing to develop the 10.8 acres of upland and 13.4 acres of submerged land on the island between Miami Beach and downtown Miami were Swerdlow Marine Partners, an affiliate of the Swerdlow Group based in Hollywood, and Watson Island Partners, a venture between BAP Development of Miami and Millennium Partners of New York.
Although the city manager-appointed selection committee favored Flagstone's plan, it does not mean the other proposals are out of the race.
Swerdlow's $135 million plan calls for a $50 million Ripley's Aquarium, a marine industry exposition area, a hotel and a mega-yacht marina, promising a value of $8 million to $26 million, according to the Abramson's report.
The idea of having an aquarium in town was welcomed by many of the committee members, but its low financial return made it their second-favorite proposal.
Watson Island Partners' proposes to build a $236 million complex with a Four Seasons Resort with 319 time-share units and 50 overnight suites. Doing a whole tower of time-share units seemed too risky, the committee said.
This project, which includes a mega-yacht marina, retail and green areas, could generate from $12.4 million to $38.5 million for the city, according to the report.