It's fish or cut bait for Flagstone Property Group's Watson Island mega-yacht complex
By Jacquelyn Weiner
Nearly a decade after voters approved a mega-yacht complex on Watson Island, Miami commissioners are to decide today (9/23) whether to sink or sail agreements with developer Flagstone Property Group.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado urged commissioners last week to cut ties with the developer.
"This is the most precious land the city has," he said, "not even this city hall sitting on the water."
Commissioners by 3-2 voted to postpone the project's fate to today. Frank Carollo and Wifredo Gort voted to cut ties; Marc Sarnoff, Richard Dunn II and Francis Suarez voted to wait a week.
But with the extra week came a demand: Flagstone must agree to all the city's terms — unchanged — and pay $200,000 in back rent since February immediately or the city will sever ties.
Voters in 2001 approved Flagstone's Island Gardens, the luxury hotel, retail and mega-yacht marina complex planned for city-owned Watson Island land.
Miami commissioners gave Flagstone a 75-year lease that year and a major use special permit in 2004.
Since then — years after fishermen were cleared off the land — the city has granted the developer four extensions. Flagstone has faced lawsuits and seen lenders and would-be hotel operators come and go.
The final agreement between the city and Flagstone was to be voted on in July but never happened. Business terms were approved in March.
Under the new deal, Flagstone would have three years to start its marina and six to start the retail and parking, with deadlines set throughout. It would also pay annual rent, starting with $300,000 this year, jumping to $2 million by 2018.
When Flagstone didn't respond to the city's most recent efforts at an agreement, City Manager Carlos Migoya said he told the developer the city intended to end negotiations.
He also said he requested the $200,000 in rent Flagstone hasn't paid since February.
"If you're going to have a contract, you ought to have a good-faith payment," he said.
Lobbyist Brian May, representing Flagstone, countered that the developer wasn't supposed to pay the back rent until an agreement was inked.
Mr. May said Flagstone was willing to accept the agreement's terms and pay the rent.
"This idea that we are stringing the city along is not accurate," he said. "It is really a two-way street."
While some commissioners said enough is enough, Mr. Suarez noted that cutting ties would mean lost revenue.
"Are we going to leave $200,000 on the table? Are we in that kind of a position?"
He also warned that breaking ties with Flagstone could prompt lengthy litigation.
Commission Chairman Sarnoff said he wasn't ready to walk away from the opportunity to add a job-producing industry.
"I've heard other ideas," he said. "But at the end of the day, the best, highest use of this land really is a mega facility."
"I don't know anybody that's going to build a mega-fleet facility on this land other than Flagstone."
Still, Mr. Carollo said he didn't like that back rent was being used as leverage.
"This sounds like a bad marriage," he said. "We just need to cut our losses and move on."