Miami vote next week could create hotel-resort, mega-yacht complex on manmade Watson Island
By Susan Stabley
Flagstone Properties, a Miami-based company that won the bid to develop the northwest end of Watson Island, is close to signing a lease with the city, a major stride toward completely transforming the manmade isle.
Attorney Judy Burke said the signing is "right around the corner" as the document is expected for a Dec. 12 vote before the Miami City Commission. Ms. Burke, along with fellow Shutts & Bowen attorney Kevin Cowan, represents Flagstone, a partnership with operations in Miami and Orlando.
"The lease closely mirrors our response to the referendum," Ms. Burke said.
As approved in a November 2001 referendum, Flagstone will lease the island for 45 years, with an option for two 15-year renewals.
"Seventy-five years, that's a long time," said Ms. Burke of the lease. "You want to make sure you get it right."
Dubbed Island Gardens, the $281 million project proposes:
A 300-room, 24-story "lighthouse" motif hotel.
A 175-room, 16-story "wave" motif hotel.
A 48-slip marina for yachts 80 feet or longer.
137,000 square feet of retail.
More than a dozen restaurants.
1,509 parking spaces.
Public space and gardens including 6.5 acres of open-air fish market.
Civic art, a maritime museum and other amenities.
Flagstone would pay the city at least $1 million a year during construction, expected to take about 3 years. Once the complex opens, Flagstone would pay $2 million a year in guaranteed minimum base rent, plus 1% of total gross revenues and 2.5% from timeshare license sales, according to the developer's proposal.
Those involved in the lease process cite no outstanding sticking points, just a great deal of complex transactions to wade through. The document contained more than 150 pages.
"We really have to look at a million different 'what-ifs'," Ms. Burke said.
She described the interaction with the city as a "wonderful negotiation sessions" with direct input and handling from the City Manager Carlos Gimenez, Commissioner Johnny Winton and Mayor Manny Diaz.
"They really put time into getting this negotiation," Ms. Burke said.
But the lease agreement only gets Flagstone one step closer to breaking ground. Next, the developer must get approval for a MUSP, or multi-use special permit from the Miami City Commission.
A signed lease is key, however, to move toward agreements with hotel chains that might serve as the flags for Flagstone, said Ms Burke.
While Flagstone's proposal cited a pair of possibilities - the Conrad Hilton Group and the Regent Hotel Group -, Flagstone official Kendall Pryles said those names might not be the ones on the island once the project is complete.
However, that level of service - a four- or five- star quality - will not change, she said.
This is the first project for Flagstone in the US, said Ms. Pryles.
The company is led by Mehmet Bayraktar of Turkey, who is CEO & chairman of a board that includes Miamian Sherwood 'Woody' Weiser of The Continental Cos. and Eric Kuhne of Eric Kuhne & Associates Architecture Landscape Urban Design & the Civic Arts. The principals previously have been involved in developing waterfront projects, including Carousel Shopping Center in Istanbul, Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Key Biscayne, Darling Park in Sydney, Australia, and Bluewater in England.