| Miami sports authority, convention bureau strike Watson Island deal
Miami sports authority, convention bureau strike Watson Island deal
By Paola Iuspa
Members of the Miami Exhibition & Sports Authority and Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau are about to make a swap.
The bureau needs $800,000 from the authority toward an air site at the proposed $12.5 million Greater Miami Visitor & Aviation Center on Watson Island.
In return, the authority wants the right to market the island as a destination, which would overlap with the bureau's mission to sell Miami as a destination.
Authority board members Monday decided to sit down with bureau officials and determine what benefits the city agency - landlord and manager of the Miami Arena - would get if it agrees to give the money.
A proposed agreement would be discussed in May at the authority's monthly meeting.
The complex is to include a regional visitor center, administrative offices, conference rooms, a restaurant, an airport with a US Customs office and a heliport, said William Talbert, bureau president & CEO. It would sit on 5.6 acres of city-owned land.
While the authority would run the facility and have its offices there, the bureau, a heliport operator and Chalk's Ocean Airway, a seaplane operator, would be tenants, said Olga Ramirez-Seijas, a Miami assistant city attorney who attended Monday's sports authority board meeting.
The authority last spring approved the $800,000, she said. Back then, the city was overseeing construction of the 15,000-square-foot center and the authority was negotiating a marketing agreement with the city manager. That changed last month when the city transferred its construction responsibility to the bureau, making it the new construction manager, Ms. Ramirez-Seijas said.
Maritza Gutierrez, authority board member, said she worried the cost of the project would continue escalating. When it was planned in 1997 it was to cost $6.5 million. Now it's at $9.7 million, excluding soft costs, making the total price about $12.5 million.
Mr. Talbert told authority members the city transferred construction oversight to avoid any chance of being liable for overruns or delays.
"The city does not want to assume the financial risk," he said. "We will assume the risk. In exchange, they gave us the authority to build the facility," scheduled to open April 2004.
Al West, who oversees bureau finances, said if the authority cannot put in $800,000 the project will be downsized.
The bureau is to soon begin accepting proposals to build the facility. Construction must begin by year's end to avoid losing $3.8 million the county is to provide in convention development taxes, Mr. West said. Others sources of financing for the project are $3.2 million from the bureau and $4.7 million from the Florida Department of Transportation, he said.
Authority members would like the bureau to finance part of the sports authority's campaign to market the island as a destination.
The man-made island is also to be home to Parrot Jungle & Gardens and the Children's Museum, both under construction. A complex with two hotels, restaurants, shops and a mega-yacht marina is proposed for the island's northern tip. The city is currently negotiating a lease agreement for that with developer Flagstone Properties.
City commissioner Arthur Teele Jr., an authority board member, said he supports in principle giving the money to the bureau. But, he said, both groups must define their roles in marketing.
"I would like to see a memorandum of understanding," Mr. Teele said, "specifying which role the authority and the bureau will have in promoting the island, since there is an overlap of functions."