City Heat Reach Pact To Return Parking Lot End Deal
By Candi Calkins
Miami commissioners and the Miami Heat have agreed to end a business deal that over the past six months triggered controversy.
Miami commissioners last week said the city will resume control of a parking lot north of the American Airlines arena by month’s end, closing out a lease deal with the Miami Heat.
At the same time, the Heat notified the city of its intent to cancel.
"The agreement has caused more trouble than it is worth," Jay Cross, president of business development for the Miami Heat, wrote to commissioners. "Rather than continue to be the focus of a controversy, we believe it is in everyone’s interest for the city to put the property out for a public request for proposals."
Commissioners this month will seek competitive proposals from private developers wishing to landscape and operate the city-owned land as a parking lot.
Commissioners also asked City Manager Carlos Gimenez to explore whether the city itself could operate the parking lot, an option that would keep revenues in municipal coffers.
"I don’t think we should be losing the significant dollars," Mayor Joe Carollo said. He said that either the city or a top bidder should run the parking lot during arena games and activities.
"Whatever we spend there goes to waste," the mayor said, adding that the lot would be torn up if the city decides to fill in the adjacent boat slip during redevelopment of Bicentennial Park.
A portion of the city-owned land will be taken by the state for the widening of Biscayne Boulevard, due to begin in 2004. City officials said a push to expedite the project could get the street-widening started two years earlier.
"Maybe we could do something that’s a lot cheaper but could still look respectable," Mr. Carollo said.
The mayor suggested a grass parking lot similar to lots at the city’s Orange Bowl stadium.
"The mayor is correct. We need to maximize the dollars and the revenues to the city," said Commissioner Arthur Teele.
Mr. Teele said he was concerned about the quality of improvements for the lot.
"It is much easier to sort of do this on the cheap. But I don’t think that’s a statement that we want on Biscayne Boulevard," Mr. Teele said.
The Heat had planned to spend $528,000 to improve the property, including $200,000 to pave and landscape the parking lot and $328,000 in shore-line improvements.
Under the deal approved last fall, the team was paying $2,500 a month rent with a plan to use the city-owned land for valet parking.
Mr. Cross said unforeseen delays prevented the team from carrying out the plan. "We have been unable," he said, "to park cars there during arena events but have nevertheless paid our monthly rent to the city."
Lori Bilberry, city director of asset management, said the Heat was given six months to complete the improvements.
The basketball team did complete $178,000 in shore-line improvements, Ms. Bilberry said. She said the NBA franchise had begun permitting for the remainder of the improvements but withdrew when Heat officials learned the city commission would revisit the issue.
Ms. Bilberry said the property improvements were considered a donation and were not legally required.
"It’s my opinion by cancelling the agreement that the balance of their agreement is not required," she said. "It was voluntary."
"In exchange for making the improvements and donating them to the city, operating the parking facility would have provided an opportunity to earn some minimal, below-market return on our investment of over half-a-million dollars," Mr. Cross said. He said the potential loss of the parking lot in three years limited the chances of recouping an investment.
"We remain concerned about the condition of the premises for safety and aesthetic reasons and are hopeful that the city will move forward immediately to rehabilitate the property," Mr. Cross said. He offered to share with the city the team’s architectural design for the parking lot.
In a separate agreement, the Heat is leasing city-owned land along the south side of the deep-water slip a 6-foot-wide strip along the water where the team wants to install floating docks for arena-goers arriving by boat.
The team plans to spend $500,000 on floating docks but city officials said that plan is on hold while the team negotiates with the state entity that owns the right to the deep-water slip.
Under the floating docks agreement the Miami Heat pays the city $1,000 a month plus 8% of gross revenues of $150,000-$225,000, or 10% if gross revenues exceed $225,000.