Miami commissioner Sarnoff demands rent on Watson Island land
By Risa Polansky
As the final legal deadline nears for would-be Watson Island developer Flagstone Property Group to make good on past-due rent, the area city commissioner says he's not inclined to give CEO Mehmet Bayraktar a break.
"He needs to make rent payments just like anyone else in this world," said Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, whose district covers Watson Island.
Mr. Bayraktar has said he can't promise the $83,000 monthly payments — Flagstone hasn't paid since July — but continues to pursue financing for his planned luxury hotel and yacht marina project.
He has until Feb. 1 to cement financing and begin work on the development and says his eye is on that date.
But in negotiating that extended deadline with commissioners last year, Flagstone agreed to pay monthly to use the land.
The city calls the required monthly payments "consideration for use," not rent.
Mr. Bayraktar, who has until Nov. 1 to make good on the missing August payment, says "imposed" rent payments are not the issue — pinning down financing in a global economic meltdown is.
Mr. Sarnoff disagreed.
That's like saying "the important things not the car payment, but the car," he said. But "if you want to keep the car, you have to make the payment."
The city should take legal action should the developer officially fall into default on the rent, he said — especially "in a time when it needs the rent payments."
From there, Mr. Sarnoff said he's not set on next steps.
He said in August — before Flagstone paid late June and July rent — a new referendum could be in order.
Voters in 2001 gave the go ahead for a luxury hotel, retail and marina development on the city-owned land.
Now, "I need to see legally how this whole thing shakes out," Mr. Sarnoff said last week. "It may very well be that part of this is salvageable, or none of it is salvageable."
City CFO Larry Spring this month told Miami-Dade County commissioners it seems the project is a no-go.
"Right now it is unlikely that we have a project," he said at a public committee meeting.
Mr. Bayraktar corrected him in an e-mail interview.
The comments were missing a key phrase, he said: "at this time."
"At this time we are on hold due to [the] global financial meltdown.… It doesn't mean that we are not going forward with the development," Mr. Bayraktar wrote, adding that he has some promising financing leads.
But should the developer officially go into default over the missing rent, moving forward won't be up to him.
Mr. Spring said in August it would be the commission's call whether to formally terminate the agreement with the developer.
Mr. Sarnoff, firm that the city should take legal action over the rent payments, said he'd like to look at the wording of the original referendum before deciding the fate of the land.
Depending, there could be a shot at seeking a new developer without another public vote, he said.
"It seems like if we fit the parameters of the old referendum, we could do a new RFP [request for proposals]."
None of the four other city commissioners — Joe Sanchez, Tomás Regalado, Angel González and Michelle Spence-Jones — returned calls.
The dais will look different should the commission end up taking a vote on the future of Watson Island.
Both Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Regalado are running for mayor, meaning new players will fill their commission seats after Tuesday's election.
Ms. Spence-Jones is running to keep her seat.