Chalk's Ocean Airways settles suit, keeps island seaplane base
By Sherri C. Ranta
Chalk's Ocean Airways and Miami have settled the company's ongoing lawsuit, keeping the historic seaplane operation on Watson Island.
Chalk's owner Jim Confalone signed a 30-year lease with the Miami Sports & Exhibition Authority, putting to rest more than a decade of negotiations about the line's continued presence on Watson, said Lori Billberry, city director of asset management.
A three-phase lease allows Chalk's to keep operating there, rent terminal space in the planned Greater Miami Visitor & Aviation Center or make $1 million in improvement to facilities if the center isn't ready in five years, she said.
Chalk's will pay $30,000 a year rent, double what it now pays the city's parks department, Mr. Confalone said. The lease provides for a 20-year extension.
Construction of the 45,000-square-foot center, a joint project of the sports authority, the city and Greater Miami Convention and & Visitors Bureau, is to begin in November, Ms. Billberry said, at a cost of as much as $12.5 million.
In addition to Chalk's, it's to house a helicopter base, a 15,000-square-foot visitors center, offices for the sports authority, a small museum and a 3rd-level observation deck.
City and Chalk's officials have been negotiating since 1999 when a 10-year agreement that allowed Chalk's to use Watson Island for a $15,000 a year donation to the parks department ended, Mr. Confalone said.
Chalk's flies four Grumman Turbine Mallards from Fort Lauderdale and Miami to Bimini, Walker's Cay and Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
"Chalk's is to Miami," Mr. Confalone said, "what cable cars are to San Francisco. The vast majority of people in South Florida want Chalk's to remain as a common sight coming and going through Government Cut as they have been since 1917."