Rickenbacker Marina to stay put, but at a cost
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
To stay in business, Rickenbacker Marina is committing to the City of Miami to make $1.3 million worth of aesthetic improvements and to join with the Rusty Pelican restaurant to help the city build a 600-space parking garage.
The marina and restaurant operators are to make contributions to the garage totaling at least an expected $6 million.
Following the recent expiration of the family-operated marina's 25-year lease on 20 acres of city-owned land — including water rights — city commissioners agreed to extend the lease 7˝ years. In exchange, the owners agreed to pay no less than $360,000 in base rent and contribute at least $2 million for design and construction of the public parking garage, said Madeline Valdes, city's public facilities acting director.
The city's proposed Virginia Key Master Plan — a development overhaul of the 82-acre barrier island between Key Biscayne and Miami coming to the city commission for a vote in June — includes building the parking garage to serve patrons of the Rickenbacker Marina and adjacent Rusty Pelican restaurant and the public, she said.
"Rusty Pelican has agreed to do a contribution; we are working on that agreement to bring it up for commission approval," she said, adding the restaurant's commitment is to be no less than $4 million. "We will like both to partner up in terms of commitment to ensure they can build the parking garage…"
The proposed master plan for Virginia Key recommends building a five-story parking garage with 600 spaces to serve the restaurant and marina improvements in the area, said Luciana Gonzalez, assistant to Miami's planning director.
It's unclear whether the city would help finance building the garage, Ms. Valdes said. Construction costs must first be determined, she said.
Nor is it clear when garage construction would begin.
Endorsing the garage, District Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said building the structure was an example of "mid-term thinking" because it materialized elements of a long-term vision.
"I am not sure I will ever approve another master plan because there are those in this commission who think a master plan is put on a shelf and say this is what we can do but we don't have the political will or the desire to get it done," he said at the city commission meeting in late April.
The garage alone, he said, is a good change because it gets cars away from the waterway, allowing for a more pedestrian-friendly waterfront.
Aabad Melwani, marina president and owner, agreed to those terms at the meeting, saying the first step would be to design the parking garage.
The $1.3 million in capital improvements to the marina property include stabilization of the shoreline at the north end of its parking lot, repaving the dry storage area, resurfacing the parking lot and installing new fencing and lighting, Mr. Melwani said in an interview Tuesday.
"Those were things we wanted to do for sometime but did not have the time to amortize those costs," he said.
The marina operator is also renting 20,590 square feet of land to provide additional parking for patrons, paying a monthly use fee to the city of $500 plus taxes, totaling about $6,000 a year.
Rickenbacker operators are paying another monthly fee of $4,500, equaling $54,000 annually, to use 1,440 square feet of adjacent city-owned property at 3501 Rickenbacker Cswy. — home to the Marine Stadium Marina — to provide a boat launching ramp.
The city plans to deposit all parking fee money and 10% of the launching ramp fee into a special account for future capital improvements, lease documents show.
Rickenbacker is a full-service marina at 3301 Rickenbacker Cswy. that stores about 500 boats: 300 in dry storage and 200 in the water.
The marina offers dockage, dry storage and fuel and maintenance services and houses a catering business, restaurant and convenience store.
The lease extension is 7˝ years for use of wet storage facilities, restaurant, tiki deck, restrooms, office, fuel dock facility and other ancillary facilities, lease documents show. The use of dry storage facilities was extended for four and a half years, with three one-year options to renew.
Rickenbacker Marina's lease extension guarantees operators a couple more years of business since the proposed master plan emphasizes mixed-use waterfront development.
The master plan call for consolidating Rickenbacker Marina and Marine Stadium Marina, located to the north and east of Rickenbacker Causeway on Virginia Key, to develop a bigger facility with marine-related retail and restaurants.
Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones's main concern at the meeting was that increasing the marina's base rent from $60,000 to $360,000 would be passed down to boaters. The rent increase is based on a new property appraisal.
Mr. Melwani said does not plan to raise his prices.
"I don't intend on doing any increases, at least in the next two years," he said, adding he likes to keep 100% occupancy and doesn't want to hurt his business in any way.
"I am willing to take that out of my net profit just to keep doing business with you guys [the city]."
Chairman Joe Sanchez proffered his own lease amendment to guarantee sub tenants didn't get hit with extra costs, either.
Sub tenants' rent and fees cannot be increased by more than 20% cap annually, he said.
The marina currently charges $20 per foot for boat storage, but requires a minimum of 23 feet for dry storage and 35 feet for dockage.
Commissioner Sarnoff asked that the marina operator return to the city in a year to check on his progress in building a parking garage — if those plans move forward — and making marina improvements.
"The only way to motivate these guys is to make them think they are going to lose something…"