Virginia Key redevelopment could broaden Miami's recreational, entertainment options
By Paola Iuspa
A neglected slice of Virginia Key could become Miami's next waterfront primed for redevelopment as officials plan to request proposals within the year to transform more than 50 acres there.
Otto Boudet, the mayor's senior adviser for economic development, said city officials would apply to rezone the 18-acre Miami Marine Stadium and surrounding area.
Part of that land was transferred from Miami-Dade County to the city in 1995 and does not have any land-use designation or zoning, Mr. Boudet said. He said a new category called marine facility zoning would be sought for the parcel northeast of the Rickenbacker Causeway, which traverses the 1,000-acre Virginia Key between the mainland and Key Biscayne.
Some uses the new zoning would allow are a marine stadium; retail and restaurants; areas for recreational activities; a water-theme park, and cultural, educational or entertainment sites and hotel accommodations, said Dena Bianchino, assistant city manager.
"We are not looking for a large retail complex," she said. "The development would be more water oriented. We have an incredible lagoon that needs to be taken advantage of. The use would allow a small boutique hotel and some retail. But they would not be the main component."
Some concepts being considered range from revamping the stadium, closed in 1992 after damage from Hurricane Andrew, to building a water-theme park.
Miami Mayor Many Diaz, spearheading redevelopment, said he envisions refurbishing the marine stadium, which was built for concerts and boat races.
"I have fond memories of those days," he said. "I saw Jimmy Buffet and Tony Bennett there."
Mr. Boudet said the mayor plans to discuss the future of the northeast portion of Virginia Key at a May 9 city commission meeting.
One plan calls for vacating surrounding businesses such as the city-run 8-acre Marine Stadium Marina, the 20.9-acre Rickenbacker Marina, Tony's Jet Skis, Southeast Marine Repair Shop and Bayside Seafood Restaurant. The city would seek proposals from private developers for the area, Mayor Diaz said.
City of Miami Commissioner Arthur Teele said he does not yet have a vision for Virginia Key development but would not support anything that competes with a project planned for Watson Island. Flagstone Properties are negotiating a lease with the city to build two high-end hotels, shops, restaurants and a mega-yacht marina on the northern tip of the manmade island off downtown Miami.
Commissioner Johnny Winton said he would like to keep the stadium while using the neighboring area for water entertainment, but wants to let developers come up with ideas. Commissioners Tomas Regalado and Angel Gonzalez said they like the idea of a water park.
"I would like to see an aquatic park," Mr. Regalado said, "like the one in Orlando, so we can have a place we all can go on weekends." He said he was not in favor of a hotel or condominium on the site.
Robert Parente, chairman of the Waterfront Advisory Board, which commissioners created to help choose the best use for waterfront properties, said it is not clear what the city intends to do with that portion of the key.
"They came to us with some sort of possible land uses five months ago," Mr. Parente said, "but the recommendations were sort of vague."
He said the board was concerned the city was talking about redeveloping a portion of Virginia Key without first having a master plan for the entire island, which is also home to the Miami Seaquarium, a Miami-Dade sewage plant, a park, a conservation area and the MAST Academy.
The city-created Virginia Key Beach Park Trust is in charge of restoring and preserving a nearby 77-acre park, which is outside the area commissioners want to develop.
"Once you start pouring concrete, if you don't think of the implication that may have in 20 years, then you have a problem," Mr. Parente said.
Before supporting any new land use for that portion, he said, the board would need to know what is going to happen with a landfill near to the conservation area, the length of the Seaquarium's lease or the future of the Virginia Key Beach Park and a proposed museum.
Mr. Parente said he expects the city administration to get his board involved in planning for the area.
"The board is a tremendous asset for the city administration," he said. "We are the bridge between the elected officials and the community. We are a legislative aid when it comes to waterfront issues."
Mr. Parente said a permanent stage for MTV and the filming of other outdoor TV shows and special events would be good.
Residents of the affluent Village of Key Biscayne, a few miles south of Virginia Key, apparently are concerned about any development that would increase traffic on Rickenbacker Causeway, the only artery in and out of the island. Key Biscayne Mayor Joe Rasco said he has talked to Mr. Diaz about the kind of project villagers would support.
"We talked about redeveloping the marine stadium for marine-related recreational activities," he said. "We would not support a water-theme park. We are going to be watching carefully how this develops and make sure they take into account the traffic."
Mr. Rasco said building restaurants on that portion of the key would have to be studied thoroughly because land around the stadium is needed for parking during special events such as a tennis tournament.