Miamis Waterfront Board Still Playing Key Role Along Shore
Written by Catherine Lackner on October 19, 2000
By Catherine Lackner
As the City of Miami considers myriad plans for Watson Island, Virginia Key, Bicentennial Park and other ocean- and bay-front properties, Miami’s Waterfront Advisory Board is facing a full agenda.
"All things considered, we don’t have a whole lot of waterfront land left," said Robert Parente, the board’s new chairman. "Waterfront land is one of the last bastions of free Miami magic. It doesn’t cost you a dime to pull off the roadway with your kids and watch the cruise ships or the seaplanes or to just look at the water."
Preserving public access to the water while acknowledging the city’s need to leverage its assets is a delicate balancing act, he said.
The 12-member board was created in the early 1980s during the mayoral tenure of Maurice Ferre and, Mr. Parente said, "its powers have never really changed.
"It’s an advisory board, not a quasi-legislative organization." Any major waterfront use, he said, has to go through the board for review.
There’s no shortage of issues as Mr. Parente takes leadership.
Among hotbeds of controversy is Watson Island itself. There, plans for the Parrot Jungle tourist attraction and cruise ship terminals are on the drawing boards.
While praising the Parrot Jungle proposal as a win-win plan, Mr. Parente said the board is leaning more toward a mega-yacht marina than cruise ship terminals for Port of Miami as among best uses for the island just east of downtown Miami.
Mega-yacht marinas dock and handle private vessels of more than 80 feet, an extremely lucrative and environmentally friendly industry.
"We could do an incredible business because we have a premier location. Someone can dock their boat, go see the Heat play, go to Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant — what a dream life!
"These yachts spend a ton of dough — on flowers, food, all kinds of things," Mr. Parente said. "Right now, Fort Lauderdale is eating our lunch."
Whatever uses eventually are put into place on the island should "carry out a mission that includes employment and economic opportunities for the inner city," Mr. Parente said.
That directive, he said, includes the present tenants, the Miami Outboard Club and Miami Yacht Club.
"By law, these clubs have to have an open-door policy. But they don’t exactly go beat the bushes for new members. I’d like to see the public be able to understand more about the water and be more encouraged to join."
While acknowledging that "by and large, these organizations have done a good job," Mr. Parente said, city leases — without which the clubs couldn’t exist — mandate them to "give something back," a process the waterfront board encourages.
"It’s crazy to know there are kids in Overtown who don’t know there’s an ocean 10 blocks away; they’ve never been on a boat."
On the opposite side of downtown Miami, plans are afoot to revitalize Dinner Key Marina in Coconut Grove and its adjacent exhibition space.
"We’ve met with the Miami Commission and with people who have knowledge of the marine industry. They tell us the marina is undervalued. Though it’s run OK now, it’s not one of the best marinas."
While he praised Dinner Key’s operation under Christina Abrams, the city’s director of public facilities and conventions, and acknowledged that the marina brings in about $1.5 million a year, "it’s not really in the shape where it can tout itself," Mr. Parente said.
"Dinner Key is a question mark," he said. A project to renovate the boat docks to the south of the auditorium is in discussion, but Mr. Parente said he’d like to see a more integrated approach.
"We believe the bayfront stretches from Kennedy Park south to Peacock Park, including Dinner Key and the two private boating clubs. If someone had taken a master plan approach when it was all being developed, you wouldn’t have the piecemeal approach you have now."
Realizing that development of some sort is bound to come to Dinner Key, the waterfront board will try to see that the city gives significant weight to the needs of the developers and the public.
"We understand the city commission is desperate to find revenue. We agree with that, but not at the expense of parks. It seems to be a favorite place where people see untapped revenue."
At Bicentennial Park, "we were first to say ‘no’ to the Marlins," Mr. Parente said.
The board, backed by Miami Commissioner Johnny Winton, also opposed a move by Mayor Joe Carollo to fill in the FEC slip at Bicentennial Park.
"Mr. Winton, quite wisely, said you’re throwing away money unless the city is going to sell or develop it, both of which the mayor said he didn’t want to do." The cost to fill the slip is estimated at $4 million.
A new committee — a subcommittee of the Bayfront Park Management Trust — has been formed to oversee Bicentennial, which is prudent, Mr. Parente said, because "the baseball thing has not gone away."
Virginia Key, north of Rickenbacker Causeway between mainland Miami and Key Biscayne, has been the subject of redevelopment speculation for more than a decade. Plans include replacing a marine stadium there that suffered structural damage years ago from Hurricane Andrew.
The city several years ago entertained the possibility of an ecological campground and marina but only one response was received to a request for proposals. By city ordinance, any bid that draws fewer than three proposals must be put to a vote; the lone proposal didn’t pass muster with the voters.
"Interest in Virginia Key then went dormant," Mr. Parente said. Now, he said, with plans for a possible windsurfing beach and "some sort of redevelopment" for the marine stadium, the area is heating up again.
"The thinking was, the marine stadium must come down immediately and absolutely."
New reports suggest that the stadium can be repaired, Mr. Parente said, but "until we can sit down with all the players — the MAST Academy (the marine science magnet school,) the Rusty Pelican restaurant and others — we can’t strike a balance in this area."
His favorite plan, which he describes as "way radical," is to improve and landscape the little-used beach and to ban cars in favor of a separate parking lot and beach access through shuttle buses.
"We could tie the whole plan together and it could be a great place for people to re-create, have a nice series of concerts, enjoy the beach. And the whole thing would be shielded from the road, from the traffic."
An evaluation of the key’s potential is under way now and should be available for the board to discuss next month, Mr. Parente said.
The Miami Waterfront Board meets on the second Tuesday of the month at Miami City Hall. Details: (305) 416-1025.