School at Miami Children's Museum may impede other Watson Island projects
By Susan Stabley
A proposed charter school at the new Miami Children's Museum on Watson Island may be an obstacle to Flagstone Development's planned $281 million Island Gardens project and any other nearby tenants interested in selling alcohol.
City officials are reviewing laws and existing lease agreements to determine the impact of a school on all tenants, including the future Watson Island Aviation & Visitors Center.
"It's not just a liquor issue. This is a new use to the island," said Laura Billberry, Miami assistant director of economic development. "We still need information from the museum regarding the number of kids involved and what's the effect on parking. There are still other questions."
Currently under construction on Watson Island is the $25 million, 56,500-square-foot museum designed by Arquitectonica with 22,000 square feet of exhibits, classrooms, a 200-seat auditorium and, perhaps, a charter school for up to 200 children. Completion of the museum is set for Sept.7.
Museum Executive Director Debbie Spiegelman called the school "a very important part of the mission." In 2000, the county school board approved the school for the museum.
But city codes prohibit businesses that sell liquor from setting up shop near schools and churches, as well as close to one another. Minimum distances range from 300 to 1,000 feet, depending on zoning, use and planned capacity of the business.
Miami's code determines the distance by measuring from the front door of one licensee to the front door of the other along the route of "ordinary pedestrian traffic." According to existing Watson Island lease agreements, the museum and the Flagstone property are 50 feet from each other from lot line to lot line, said Ms. Billberry.
One possible solution to continue with the current development plans is for the Island Gardens development to be considered under a special waterfront designation, like Bayside Marketplace.
"Our hopes are to be designated a waterfront specialty retail center," said John Petricola, Flagstone's retail development manager. "It may exempt us from a lot of those issues."
But first, the children's museum must get the city's green light to open a school on the island.
The museum plans to seek a special exception from the city commission for the school, said Adrienne Pardo, vice president of its board of directors and an attorney with Greenberg Traurig. That request, she said, is not connected to the alcohol issue but to the city's zoning ordinance.
"The new building is on land designated for parks," Ms. Pardo said.
Also, Ms. Billberry said, a modification to the museum's lease with the city must be made to allow for the school. The current deal signed Nov. 2, 2001, which she said did not specify the school, worked out a $2 annual rent for 50 years plus $75,000 yearly of in-kind donations for 2.32 acres.