Massive Miami mega-yacht complex wins final OK
By Jacquelyn Weiner
Flagstone Development Group's long-planned Island Gardens project has cleared its last Miami commission hurdle, although it could come back if a casino element is added.
Miami commissioners 4-1 last week approved a state waiver for commercial development on Watson Island, allowing the project to move forward. Michelle Spence-Jones voted against it.
Brian May, lobbyist for Flagstone, said the goal is to break ground in the first quarter of 2012, with construction of the development's mega-yacht marina coming first.
He also said that adding a casino to the property — which lies just down MacArthur Causeway from Genting Group's Resorts World Miami property — isn't yet part of plans.
"I don't think there's any intentions at the moment" to add a gambling component, he said. "There's no authorization for gambling."
However, he said, "people will talk to [developer] Mr. [Mehmet] Bayraktar before this issue develops."
Recently unveiled plans for Genting Group's $3 billion-plus resort include a casino, although it's not yet legal.
The developer hopes to persuade Florida lawmakers to change that, pushing for a gaming license in the next legislative session.
Resorts World Miami is also spurring talk of other area destination casinos, which brought Commissioner Spence-Jones to ask if Flagstone might add a casino to its plans.
If Genting gets lawmakers' go ahead to add a casino, "that land [on Watson Island] itself becomes extremely valuable," Ms. Spence-Jones said.
If Flagstone does try to add a casino to plans, it — unlike the Genting plan — would be subject to commission approval.
Flagstone's Island Gardens is a luxury hotel, retail and mega-yacht complex planned for City of Miami-owned land on Watson Island.
The project was approved by voters in 2001.
Miami commissioners approved a 75-lease of the property to Flagstone the same year and a major use special permit in 2004.
Since then, Flagstone has faced lawsuits and lost lenders and hotel operators, but hasn't broken ground.
Commissioners agreed to new terms and a construction timeline in September 2010.
The project then awaited a new state approval, which was granted in August.
Because Flagstone's Island Gardens project sits on land given to Miami by the state in 1949 for public use, any commercial development requires state approval.
A previous waiver was approved in 2004, but a new OK was needed because the development agreement has changed significantly since then.
The commission's decision last week authorized the city manager to execute the state waiver allowing for commercial development on the property.
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff spoke in favor of the project, citing the potential economic impact of having a mega-yacht facility in Miami.
"I think you can recreate a maritime industry that existed here… and has left and gone to Broward," Mr. Sarnoff said. "I think we could become a major player again in that facility."
Mr. Sarnoff added that jobs created for workers on mega yachts would likely pay well and that mega-yacht owners often buy nearby properties.
Ms. Spence-Jones said she wanted to ensure that the project's progress is monitored.
"I don't want to find myself ever again in a situation like these mega deals and the things that we support…," she said, "then we have to run people down to find out if they actually lived up to their promise."
Madeline Valdes, Miami's director of public facilities, said that as part of the development agreement Flagstone would pay for a consultant to monitor the project.
Ms. Spence-Jones also brought up what she said is the most important element to her: job creation.
"I love the mega projects," she said. "I think they're beautiful, I think they're great, but the reality is if they're not benefiting their communities, we're doing a disservice."
Mr. May said that of the 3,000 construction jobs that are to be created, Flagstone has committed to hiring 40% local workers in certain areas, including plumbing, electrical and landscaping.
Also playing a role in the commission's decision was the threat of possible legal action if it didn't allow the project to move forward after approving a development agreement.
Assistant City Attorney Robin Jones Jackson told commissioners that if Flagstone reasonably complied with its obligations — including a $300,000 payment to the city that day — and approval of the state waiver, the city should act in good faith and not block the project.
Mr. Sarnoff, who is an attorney, also warned fellow commissioners of the "huge damages" that Flagstone could win in court if it took legal action and won.
"The last thing you want to do is put them in a position to sue us."
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