Florida Cabinet OKs Watson Island mega-yacht marina complex
By Jacquelyn Weiner
A state waiver allowing for development of a mega-yacht facility on Watson Island has won approval from the Florida Cabinet.
Now, the long-planned project goes to Miami city commissioners for final approval.
If OK'd, Flagstone Development Group hopes to break ground on its Island Gardens project in the first half of 2012, Flagstone's attorney Kevin Cowan has said.
Mr. Cowan has called the commission vote "simply an administrative approval," whereas city officials have said they could still choose to block the project.
Flagstone's Island Gardens, the luxury hotel, retail and mega-yacht marina complex planned for the city-owned Watson Island site, was approved by voters in 2001.
Miami commissioners gave Flagstone a 75-year lease the same year and a major use special permit for the project in 2004.
Since then, the project has yet to break ground and Miami has granted Flagstone several extensions.
Miami commissioners gave Flagstone what they called a last chance in September, agreeing to new terms and a revised construction timeline.
Yet before the project can break ground, a waiver had to be secured from the Florida Cabinet because Island Gardens is planned on land given to Miami by the state in 1949 for public use. Any commercial development on the land requires state approval.
A previous waiver was approved in 2004, but a new OK was needed because the development agreement has changed significantly since then.
After further delays, including the item's withdrawal from an April cabinet agenda, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet unanimously approved the amended deed restriction Aug. 16, though not without question.
Cabinet members asked multiple times whether the payment plan, with 85% of rent going to the city and 15% to the state, was fair to the state.
Miami Assistant City Manager Alice Bravo told cabinet members that the city maintains a larger burden with the land, including "extensive staff time," code enforcement, permitting, utilities and other responsibilities.
"As the property owner, we incur all those expenses," Ms. Bravo said.
In addition, Ms. Bravo said, "modifying the rents to the city would probably necessitate a new [request for proposals] process and a new public referendum."
Attorney Mr. Cowan said that in comparing deed waivers between Miami and the state since the 1940s, a 15% state cut is quite generous.
"The 15% that the state is getting is twice as much as it has ever been given before by the City of Miami," Mr. Cowan said. "So while it may not sound great on its face, in reality it's more than fair."
Mr. Cowan added that the developer has put $53 million into the project to date and that changing the payment structure "would be really tremendously unfair and unfortunate."
"This is a public-private partnership," Mr. Cowan told cabinet members. "This developer has discussed this with lenders and investors and this has had a high degree of visibility for the last 10 years… Everybody's watching. Can the City of Miami, the State of Florida make this mega-yacht, waterfront marina come to life?"
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