Special meeting targets Jungle Island lease on Watson Island
Written by John Charles Robbins on June 5, 2018
Miami city commissioners will be playing a version of Beat the Clock on June 8 when they hold a special meeting to get a property lease before voters on the August primary election ballot.
It involves Jungle Island and plan to build a hotel as part of a multi-million-dollar redevelopment of the animal theme park on city-owned Watson Island.
The special meeting begins at 10:30 a.m. at City Hall.
City officials have until the close of business that day to file with the county elections department a formal ballot proposal request to make the August ballot.
The city leases the land at 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail to ESJ JI Leasehold LLC. The hotel and lease extension require the approval of voters at referendum.
A similar plan discussed last year was deferred in July to afford ESJ more time for community outreach, which the company says has now been accomplished.
A lease extension would mean more revenue to the city, contributions from ESJ to an adjacent park for improvements and money for low-income housing, and the promise of hundreds of new jobs.
At the request of Miami Today, a representative of ESJ provided this proposed wording of the ballot proposal:
“Shall Miami’s Charter be amended extending Jungle Island’s Lease for an additional 39-years, plus 15-year option, by waiving competitive bidding and allowing construction of a privately funded hotel and attractions with a maximum 130-foot height in exchange for:
■Additional annual rent for the hotel of $250,000.00 increasing to $1,150,000.00 or 5.0% of hotel gross sales, whichever greater;
■A contribution of $700,000.00 to the adjacent City park and $500,000.00 for low-income housing?”
The conceptual plan for the hotel shows a long, slender building designed like the curves and cascading balconies of a cruise ship, only smaller. The hotel would be limited to a 130-foot height and no more than 300 rooms.
The $700,000 voluntary contribution from ESJ would go to the city’s adjoining Ichimura Miami-Japan Garden. ESJ’s $500,000 donation for low-income housing would go into to the city’s new affordable housing trust.
Along with the hotel, near-term redevelopment plans include amenities like an indoor state-of-the-art trampoline park, an aerial play and rope course, an outdoor skydiving wind tunnel, escape rooms, a beach restaurant, multiple water play elements, a zip-line experience, a Crystal Lagoon and a lazy river.
ESJ representatives told Miami Today that the new Jungle Island park, hotel, and amenities are expected to create up to 500 new permanent jobs.
While ESJ representatives say their community outreach has been extensive and earned public support for the proposal, a band of detractors remains, voicing opposition to added development on the island, saying it will further exacerbate traffic gridlock.
It has resulted in a case of dueling websites and dueling petitions – pro and con.
Those wishing to sign a petition in favor of Jungle Island’s plan can do so by visiting www.yestoanewjungleisland.com.
Those wishing to sign a petition, “Say NO to the New Jungle Island,” can do so by visiting www.jungleislandopposition.org.
The latest Jungle Island proposal was originally going to be put on the city commission’s agenda May 10 but wasn’t ready.
It was then destined to be on the May 24 meeting agenda, but the administration pulled it.
It was Vice Chair Ken Russell who brought up Jungle Island on May 24, and the idea of a special meeting.
Mr. Russell acknowledged that the city is considering several lease deals and property matters that could end up going before city voters this year.
“There was an item on this agenda (May 24) having to do with Jungle Island, which is a city property, and I know they are trying to get on the August referendum ballot. And I recognize why the city manager pulled the item. There’s a lot that needs to be put together and perhaps it was not ready for today, but in order to give it a chance, I’d be open … [to consider] a special meeting,” said Mr. Russell.
After a short discussion on the June 8 deadline, commissioners approved a resolution scheduling a special meeting June 8 for the purposes of “discussing and taking any and all actions associated with the modification of the lease between the City of Miami and ESJ JI Leasehold LLC, including but not limited to any and all potential amendments to the charter …”
The adventure park, closed for many months after Hurricane Irma in September, reopened Memorial Day weekend.