Watson Island project awaits permits, financing
By Yeleny Suarez
Development of a planned resort on Watson Island is awaiting marina permits, financing and hotel operators.
"The lease agreement between the City of Miami and developers states all the conditions precedent must be completed by Jan 1, 2007," said Laura Billberry, assistant director of the City of Miami's economic development department.
In addition to the need for pending permits, two homeowners on Venetian Island have filed suit challenging the city's approval of a major use special permit. "Therefore, the timeframe for actually executing the lease is uncertain," Ms. Billberry said.
"We are aware of the lawsuit, and believe it is without merit and will defend it in court. Other than timing issues, we do not believe that the project will be affected in any way," said Flagstone Property Group project director Joseph L. Herndon.
Flagstone's proposed project includes two luxury high-rise hotels, 50 marina slips and more than 230,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.
On June 24 a state trust that overseas public lands and is comprised of Gov. Jeb Bush, Attorney General Charlie Crist, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson gave the city a deed waiver for use of the land. The waiver was needed to allow development on the island, which was deeded to the city in 1949 for public use.
"While some items such as obtaining marina permits and the waiver of deed restriction have not occurred within the timeframe initially anticipated, these delays are not affecting the outside date for executing the ground lease," Ms. Billberry said.
Mr. Herndon seems to agree.
"The project planned for Watson Island will be built just as all of the governmental agencies approved it and by a majority of voters," he said. "There are no obstacles that will prevent the development of this project. We have most of the major permitting behind us. Any open matters are routine for a development of this size."
According to Ms. Billberry, developer Flagstone Property Group and the City of Miami have diligently met their obligations but negotiation of some items and getting approvals such as marina permits from Department of Environmental Resource Management, the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corps of Engineers are taking longer than anticipated.
These permits, however, don't have a deadline within the lease agreement so no deadlines have been missed.
"We have secured the waiver of deed restriction and marina permit from the South Florida Water Management District. We are still trying to get the marina permits from DERM and the Corps," Ms. Billberry said.
Securing development approvals including the marina permits and the major use special permit, she said, will pave the way for subsequent steps that include completing the financing package and securing hotel operators.
Mr. Herndon says construction will take about two years once all permits are obtained.