Proposal could invite marine, retail development to Virginia Key
By Paola Iuspa
Miami administrators are proposing zoning changes near Miami Marine Stadium to open Virginia Key to private development in an area scarred by abandoned structures and unpaved parking lots.
A marine-facility rezoning would allow retail, restaurants, recreational activities, water-theme parks, cultural, educational and entertainment attractions and minor hotel accommodations, as well as a stadium, according to a document prepared by the city's real estate and economic development department. Water-theme attractions and hotels are not part of the area's prevailing parks and recreation zoning.
"This is something we are proposing," said Arleen Weintraub, director of the department. "The city commission could change it."
"It is about time," said Claude Laroche, owner of Bayside Seafood Restaurant, under reconstruction. "This is an abandoned wasteland. This is a great location, less than 10 minutes from the metropolitan area, and nobody has ever done anything to improve it."
Ms. Weintraub said she would propose changes to the Waterfront Advisory Board and Virginia Key Park Trust before seeking Miami City Commission approval to open the area to bids for development.
The advisory board, which reviews waterfront projects for the city, will hear the proposal Nov. 13, said Yvonne Page, the group's liaison.
The park trust works to restore and preserve 77-acre Virginia Key Park, nearby, but outside the area proposed for redevelopment.
The stadium, located in the center of the strip of land northeast of the Rickenbacker Causeway, was built in 1963 by the city. It was used to watch boat races, concerts and fireworks displays before closing in 1992 after being damaged by Hurricane Andrew. The structure is now abandoned and graffiti-covered.
Those leasing city-owned land surrounding the 18-acre stadium, include the Rusty Pelican Restaurant, on 5.9 acres and with a lease expiring in October 2002, and Rickenbacker Marina, on 21 acres and with a lease ending August 2009. Tony's Jet Skis, Southeast Marine Repair Shop and Bayside Seafood Restaurant rent by the month.
The city runs the 8-acre Marine Stadium Marina. In the past fiscal year, the city collected $655,566 from all tenants, according to the document.
Under the new proposal, land along the water's edge would remain commercial, allowing development of high-density multifamily projects, offices, retail, financial services, restaurants, entertainment facilities, major sports and exhibition centers, hotels, churches and schools.
The proposal also calls for a restricted park and recreation section across the basin in the current conservation area. It would allow a park with nature trails, interpretive centers, picnic areas, playgrounds, canoe trails and launches, concessions and restrooms.
If the city commission approves the changes, adopting new zoning and land uses would take about nine months, according to the document. The next step would be for commissioners to define the areas to be put up for bids.
Mr. Laroche said he would be the "first in line" if the city asks for proposals.
"It is long needed."
He said he would propose expanding the 18-year-old restaurant and creating space for night entertainment. He said a hotel would not be viable because there is no beach, but could work if a 1,000-wet-slip marina were built with retail and bars around it.
"A large marina would sustain a hotel, just like the Marina del Rey in California," said Mr. Laroche, who said he has been in the hospitality industry more than 25 years.
He said the city has previously tried to seek bids for redevelopment of some areas surrounding the stadium. The city awarded him a bid in 1988 to build a restaurant on the water, he said, but his joint venture did not get the required financing.
Jack King, a member of the Waterfront Advisory Board, said he would welcome anything to improve the area. Few developers were interested in that land 30 years ago, he said, because it was out of the way for those heading to the beaches and the site was bid out in pieces.
Mr. King said he would like something such as Scotty's Landing in Coconut Grove, a restaurant and marina, or a Key West-type village with a small residential component, retail and maritime elements.
"To create a village you need to have people living there," he said. "People who live in a place maintain it."
He said any development by the water should include water-dependent activities such as boating, sailing and personal watercraft with some stores and small restaurants.
"The planning and zoning department has a tendency to propose hotels and condos for waterfront properties," Mr. King said. "They want the highest and best use of the land. But that's not always what provides recreation for the majority of the public."