Heliport to close while move to Watson Island is reviewed
By Suzy Valentine
Miami's sole heliport will close Sept. 1 until the Federal Aviation Authority and the state review its planned move to a new Watson Island site.
It will be several months before New Jersey-based Linden Airport Services Corp. can work on the facility - significantly downsized from original plans.
"We started this process in 1994," said Paul Dudley, director of Linden, "and we're ready to go. It really depends on the city and I'm not sure where it is with it. It should take three to four months for the state to look at it."
Mr. Dudley said he regrets the heliport void.
"The window for simultaneous operations was lost."
In the meantime, helicopters must land at Opa-locka or Tamiami airports, which Mr. Dudley said could hurt Miami's reputation as a business hub.
"This could inconvenience the decision-makers," he said. "They're the people that bring the collateral and intangible benefits to Miami. We need to make it attractive to come, do business and create jobs."
Heliport usage fluctuates, said Mr. Dudley, from 20 to 50 flights a day.
The heliport was part of once-grander city and the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority plans to move the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau to the island.
"A larger building was needed," said Lori Billberry, acting city economic development director. "In the early 1990s there was provision for a hangar as well as a terminal, but that was revised in the proposal."
She said site planning and review of the heliport proposal could take six to 12 months.
Relocating the heliport will cost $1.5 million to $2.5 million, Mr. Dudley said, depending upon how much space it uses.
The Florida Department of Transportation is contributing $1 million, which the city commission authorized July 28. That's $3.7 million less than the sum agreed upon in 1999, reflecting revised plans.
"You don't need 10 acres for a heliport," said Mr. Dudley, "probably just half an acre."
A commission resolution provides matching funds up to $1 million.
Mr. Dudley said he doesn't blame the city for delays.
"There have been some other legal and bureaucratic entanglements," he said, "such as wrangles with the seaplane operator."
Litigation by Miami Beach residents over zoning on the island created another hitch.
The zoning debate also is delaying Island Gardens, a $426 million hotel and marina complex conceived by Miami Beach-based Flagstone Property Group. The 3rd District Court of Appeal has yet to provide an opinion.
"The city needs to have all the interested parties substantially in alignment," Mr. Dudley said. "There are some very vexing problems given the disparate interests on the island. We can't start work until they are resolved."
He said he sees no problems with aviation-related studies for the heliport's relocation.
"There's nothing sticking up in the path of approach and departure because it's over the water," he said, "but the process is the same regardless of whether the craft is to land on a pier, rooftop or vacant land."
Mr. Dudley remains optimistic.
"I think in a few years when there is a buzz about the island and Flagstone has built a mega-yacht and hotel complex, no one will remember this."