Return of Watson Island's heliport whirls closer
By Ashley D. Torres
Plans to reinstate a Watson Island heliport inch toward takeoff as affiliated parties are to meet with an appraiser by month's end to outline a leasing figure.
The closing of Watson Island's heliport five-plus years ago forced helicopter operators to move to other airports, such as Kendall Tamiami Executive Airport, far from the bustling business district and tourist-filled shores.
Miami is currently the only Tier One city - a major metropolitan area - without a heliport, said Paul Dudley, the proposed Watson Island heliport operator and operator of New Jersey's Linden Airport Services Corp.
Worldwide metropolitan areas, such as New York and Tokyo, rely on helicopters to quickly move business professionals around and showcase to sightseers the beauty of cities from the sky.
The Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority, established in 1983 as an independent agency of the City of Miami, which acts as landlord for the Miami Children's Museum, the future leaseholder for museums at Museum Park and the negotiating body for heliport plans, is to sublease the Watson Island heliport site to Mr. Dudley.
At an April 27 special meeting, the authority board approved an appraiser to value the heliport property, which is to be complete by month's end.
"We're getting ready to meet with the appraiser," said Timothy Schmand, executive director, "and outline numbers for the lease that we can all live with."
The sports authority and Mr. Dudley are to split the $4,400 appraisal fee.
Reinstating the Watson Island heliport has met numerous delays, Mr. Dudley said, including the city's litigation with Chalk's International Airlines over seaplane operations on the island and heliport approvals for the waterfront property from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation.
"I think it's kind of like childbirth," he added. "You can plan all you want, but it's going to happen when it wants to."
When the heliport operation was awarded a number of years ago, Mr. Dudley said, twice as many South Florida helicopter operators flew as exist today due to the recession. Nationally, helicopter business has declined about 30% to 50%.
With a struggling economy, he added, "the first things to go are the boats, the planes and the parties."
In addition, a Fort Lauderdale-based heliport attracted so little business that landing and parking fees were ceased and the heliport is now unattended.
"What makes us confident and separates us from anybody else," he said, "is that we have the ability to draw from a larger pool of operators."
These operators, who have agreed to provide services in Miami to subsidize the lack of local operators, hail from the New York region, where Mr. Dudley runs the area's largest helicopter center.
The Watson Island heliport is designed to open in stages. A landing zone reestablishing helicopter access to the city is to come first, followed by improvements to the heliport's terminal and hangar building.
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