Watson Island Development Inches Forward With Parrot Jungle Loan
By Candi Calkins
The redevelopment of Watson Island, a land-use jigsaw puzzle undertaken by the City of Miami, has taken one step forward with completion of $47 million in financing for a new Parrot Jungle site.
Components proposed for Watson Island include Parrot Jungle, a visitor center and aviation facility, two cruise terminals, a hotel or other private development and a mega-yacht marina.
The last piece of the $47 million financing puzzle to build a new Parrot Jungle was a $25 million loan from the US Department of Housing & Urban Development, said Eric Eimstad, director of marketing for Parrot Jungle.
The bonds, he said, have just been issued and the money entrusted to Miami-Dade County, which is administering the loan to finance Parrot Jungle construction. Parrot Jungle financing also includes traditional bank loans, equity and sponsorships, Mr. Eimstad said.
Parrot Jungle officially is to take control of the city-owned land by early August, with groundbreaking in the fall, he said.
The attraction is leasing 16.5 acres of upland and 2.5 acres of bay bottom on Watson Island. Mr. Eimstad said the park will remain at its current Pinecrest location until the new facility is completed in summer 2002.
While Parrot Jungle has cleared final hurdles to begin construction, Miami officials say other plans for Watson Island await the outcome of negotiations regarding the Port of Miami’s bid to build two cruise terminals on the island.
Plans for a $7.5 million visitor center and aviation facility on 5.6 acres on the island are on hold until port negotiations conclude, said Erdal Donmez, city director of real estate and economic development.
He said surveys are needed to determine the exact location of the two proposed cruise ship terminals on six acres. The location of the visitor center could shift depending on the orientation of the terminals, he said.
"The port project will determine the exact location of the aviation facility," Mr. Donmez said.
William Talbert, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, said his organization is concerned about the delay. Changes in city management have required that port and county negotiators review the status of talks with Miami’s new city manager, he said. Now, Mr. Donmez, the project manager, is leaving the city for an assistant city manager job in Coral Springs.
The visitors bureau has renewed the lease for its current offices at 701 Brickell Ave. for four more years.
"We are concerned about the continuing delays," Mr. Talbert said. "Construction should have started a long time ago. It’s the right project in the right place."
Mr. Talbert said the visitors center design already has won awards. "It needs to happen or we’ll go someplace else."
The visitors bureau is contributing $3.3 million, half the estimated cost to build the Watson Island aviation facility, which is to include Chalk’s airline terminal and a heliport. Bureau funding is matched by aviation funds from the Florida Department of Transportation.
Juan Kuryla, a spokesman for the Port of Miami, said there are no recent developments in talks with the city.
"We are waiting," he said, "for the city to continue negotiations."
Mr. Donmez said the city received a counter-offer from the port in April. He said the city is reviewing the details and within a few weeks will submit the project to city commissioners for discussion.
Mr. Donmez said negotiations with the port are about 98% complete. Under current terms, the port would pay $1.1 million in annual rent to the city for each of two terminals.
Built into the base rent are pilot payments that would replace property taxes on the two tax-exempt terminals. Each terminal would occupy three acres. Once the terminals reach 75% occupancy or more than four ships a week, the city would collect 15% of gross revenues from the port, he said.
Under the deal city officials have agreed to build a parking garage to serve cruise terminals, visitors center and overflow parking for Parrot Jungle.
The garage would generate more than $500,000 annually for the city, Mr. Donmez said.
"Everything has gone very, very slowly as far as I’m concerned," said Miami Commissioner Johnny Winton. "But there does seem to be some renewed focus there.
"It’s time to finish up whatever our real plan is for Watson Island," Mr. Winton said. "I’m hoping that this year we see some real things happen."
After the city and port complete negotiations, Mr. Donmez said, city officials plan to request proposals on the 12 acres remaining on Watson Island.
Developers will be asked to submit plans for hotels or other commercial projects envisioned for the site.
City officials also want to build a mega-yacht marina on Watson Island.
"Now that Parrot Jungle is settled," Mr. Winton said, "it’s time to get focused on the other component pieces to the puzzle and get them done."