Marine firm Merrill-Stevens gets 2.2 acres from county
By Wayne Tompkins
Miami-Dade County commissioners Tuesday approved a resolution giving Merrill-Stevens use of 2.2 acres of county-owned land, a key piece in expansion plans for the marine-services firm that is the county's oldest continuously operating company.
The company has said the project will allow it to remain on the Miami River, retaining 150 jobs and creating about 350 new ones paying an average $48,000 a year.
"It's going to revitalize the shipping and marine industry on the river," Commissioner Carlos Gimenez said.
The $55 million expansion, scheduled to begin in 2009, remains dependent on other regulatory approvals and on government funding to finish dredging the river so larger mega-yachts the company plans to service can get upriver from Biscayne Bay.
The county will lease certain parts of the land and provide fee simple title to other sections. Lease revenue will generate $2.2 million for affordable-housing use, County Manager George Burgess said. Merrill- Stevens' contribution includes $9.4 million in construction costs for projects including river walks, a police marine facility and a maritime exhibit. Parcels to be conveyed to Merrill-Stevens were appraised at $10.8 million.
Merrill-Stevens' current facility includes haul-out and launch facilities for yachts up to 500 tons as well as repair, refit and painting services. To remain competitive, the company is launching a major expansion that will allow it to repair and retrofit larger mega-yachts of up to 250 feet long and weighing up to 2,500 tons.
The project is expected to pump $195 million per year into the county's economy. Florida has been losing jobs in its $14.1 billion marine industry to such states as North Carolina and Georgia.
"It's a golden opportunity to grab something back," Commissioner Jose Diaz said. "We need to be competitive."
The company plans to start site-preparation work later this year that will include repositioning shipyard operations to accommodate work on the 12th Avenue bridge.
Merrill-Stevens previously submitted a combined permit application to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corps of Engineers and will request approval from the City of Miami, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and state and federal agencies.
Merrill-Stevens was founded in 1885 and began operating on the Miami River in 1923. The company serves the yacht and mega-yacht industries.
Merrill-Stevens approached the county to be a partner in the project for job creation and economic development that would not require it to move its Miami River facility. A training center will provide marine vocational apprenticeships.
State law allows Florida counties to lease or convey real property to private enterprises for economic development purposes, though this appears to be the first time that has been done in Miami-Dade County.
Though she ultimately voted for the ordinance, Commissioner Barbara Jordan expressed concern over the precedent of conveying property to private concerns who might use threats of leaving the county as leverage to cut a favorable deal to lease public land.
The expansion plans include two scenic river-walk pedestrian paths providing expanded public access and viewing windows along the main building for passersby to view and observe vessel repair and restoration.