Awaiting aquatic center, Sunny Isles floats more project plans
By Meena Rupani
Sunny Isles Beach, waiting on Wometco Enterprises to get both financing and a developer to build an aquatic center between east and west Sunny Isles Boulevard, is preparing to move ahead with a cluster of other city projects in the meanwhile.
The city has purchased four acres for the aquatic center and the other capital improvements.
The proposed Wometco Aquatic Center is to include a garage, restaurants, shops, two banquet halls and three-story aquarium where stingrays may be petted. The garage is to handle 140 to 150 cars and banquet halls are to accommodate 1,000, according to the initial site plan presented by Eduardo Castiñeira, president and CEO of Axioma3Architects, and Arthur Hertz, chairman of Wometco Enterprises. Wometco also owns and operates the Miami Seaquarium on Virginia Key.
"The initial site plan has not been altered. There may be slight changes as time goes on," Mr. Castiñeira said. "For now, we have received the preliminary thumbs-up from the city. However, formal negotiations still need to be made."
"Mr. Hertz has not yet indicated to the city that he will not be forward on this project," said Hans Ottinot, Sunny Isles Beach city attorney. "If the financing for the aquatic center does not go through, then a park will definitely be built."
Mr. Hertz did not return repeated phone calls.
"Wometco is in the process of negotiating with the banks," Mr. Castiñeira said. Although the company has not yet hired a firm to evaluate costs of the aquatic center, Mr. Castiñeira estimates it to be at least $60 million.
Rick Conner, Sunny Isles Beach city manager, had a similar view regarding status of the aquatic center.
"Not only are we in the early stages of getting the finances for the aquatic center," Mr. Conner said, "but also in the very early design stages. Wometco has also yet to hire a developer for the project."
Sunny Isles expects to spend an additional $15 million building the park and a 350-car underground garage. The complex could open as early as 2013.
"There is nothing new happening with the aquatic center at the moment. No upcoming meetings have been planned as of yet," said Mayor Norman S. Edelcup.
In addition to the park and aquatic center, the city has contracted with Calvin, Giordano and Associates to develop capital improvement projects that include the Heritage Parking Garage, currently under construction, a fishing pier and a bridge that are awaiting permits, and a skate park that is being designed at the moment, according to Chris Giordano, project administrator. The firm offers engineering, land planning, government regulatory compliance and data technologies and developmental issues.
At the May 20 city commission meeting, Mr. Conner and Calvin, Giordano and Associates agreed on contract length and amount for the capital improvement projects.
According to meeting minutes, the contract is not to exceed $130,000 and will be renewed automatically on a yearly basis. If the city wishes to pull out, the firm must be told at least 60 days in advance.
Completion dates for each project vary as they are all in different stages.
"If we are still under contract with the city at the time when the aquatic center is being built, we will become involved in that project as well," Mr. Giordano said.
"The skate park, Heritage park and parking garage are expected to be open Oct. 1 in order for the residents to utilize them during the jazz festival, which occurs Oct. 7," Mr. Conner said. The bridge has no estimated completion date yet and the pier is expected to open in four months.
Mr. Giordano said these projects would benefit the community.
"The current in-place pier is closed due to the unsafe nature of the existing pier. By demolishing the existing pier and rebuilding a new one, it will allow the citizens to once again utilize this great asset for sightseeing, fishing and people-watching," he said.
"Having the finances for the aquatic center will be a major steppingstone in this project," City Attorney Ottinot said. "Otherwise, the city will be creating a plan B."
The city already has the finances to construct the park and the other capital improvements, Mr. Ottinot said. "In terms of the aquatic center, we are currently in the concept stage, and with the finances we could move into the implementation stage."