Watson Island bait shop scheduled to close Monday to make way for visitors center
By Susan Stabley
Visitors have what will probably be their last chance this weekend to buy bait or sip a drink from Marty Tritt's longtime Watson Island bait shop while watching the sun set behind downtown Miami's skyline.
Preparing to make way for the multimillion-dollar Watson Island Aviation & Visitors Center,
Mr. Tritt's Watson Island Fuel & Fishing Supplies expects to service boaters Monday for the last time. It's the latest piece of redevelopment planned for the tiny manmade island between the mainland and Miami Beach.
For Mr. Tritt and his customers, it means the likely end of the small business that has stood for 34 years by the shore of Biscayne Bay.
"This is going to be a terrible tragedy for them," Mr. Tritt said this week. "There will be no more nighttime fuel, no more bait for marine people."
But for the City of Miami and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, it's the beginning of a complex that is to combine bureau headquarters and a press center with seaplane and helicopter bases and is one of many major projects on the island.
Miami-owned Watson Island is jumping with new activity.
Parrot Jungle Island theme park opened June 28. The $25 million, 56,500-square-foot Miami Children's Museum is set for completion in September. Resurrection of the island's Ichimura Miami-Japan Garden, built in 1961 and destroyed in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew, is planned at a cost of $1.2 million. The garden will be relocated to an acre east of Parrot Jungle.
The city also has an ambitious plan to lease the island's northwest quadrant for 45 years with two 15-year options for a commercial development. A referendum a year ago approved a lease of 13.4 acres to Flagstone Properties to build the $281 million Island Gardens, which includes two high-end hotels, shops, restaurants and a megayacht marina.
Bulldozers are scheduled to tear down Mr. Tritt's shop Tuesday and, within a week, start removing its fuel tanks.
Groundbreaking on the visitors center could be in October, pending a need to clean contaminants from the fuel tanks, said Clarence Woods of the economic-development department.
The visitors bureau, the Miami Sports & Exhibition Authority and the city have been negotiating since 1997 a deal to build and operate the center on more than 5 acres. With its current lease on Brickell Avenue ending next year, the bureau might have to consider temporary headquarters on Miami Beach. Bureau Chairman Tony Goldman CEO William Talbert III have said an extension of the bureau's current lease also might be an option.
Initial estimates were that the Watson Island complex would cost $11.7 million, which would come from sources including the bureau, the Florida Department of Transportation and Miami-Dade County's convention-development tax. The bureau recently asked the state for $2 million more and is trying to determine if it still qualifies for a $3.8 million grant, Mr. Talbert said late last month.
The project may exceed its budget because of design revisions prompted by the US Department of Homeland Security. If costs exceed $11.7 million, the visitors bureau has the right to terminate its lease with the city and the sports authority, which would become the center's landlord.
If the bureau does not help build the center, seaplane operator Chalk's Ocean Airways would have to reconstruct his facilities, owner Jim Confalone has said.
Paul Dudley of Linden Airport Services Corp., which won a bid to run the center's heliport, said he would build a new helicopter base if the complex falls through. He said he's been campaigning for a base on Watson Island since the early 1990s. "For our end of it," he said, "we're ready to go at any time."