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Front Page » Top Stories » Scene Set For Developers To Compete For Miamis Watson Island

Scene Set For Developers To Compete For Miamis Watson Island

Written by on July 26, 2001

By Paola Iuspa
Three proposals for Watson Island development, estimated to cost as much as $238 million, will be up for public scrutiny beginning Tuesday.

Developers can come armed with diagrams, studies and slide shows to impress a project selection committee and City of Miami voters – who will have the final say on a November ballot.

Representatives of Flagstone Properties, Swerdlow Marine Partners and Watson Island Partners will each have two hours to make their pitch and answer questions during the day-long public meeting starting at 8 a.m. in 1099 MacArthur Cswy.

The 11-member committee, host for Tuesday’s meeting, is to award points to each plan based on pre-determined criteria.

Recommendations are due by Aug. 7 to commissioners who will chose one by Sept. 17. The finalist will appear on a Nov. 6 ballot for public referendum.

After that, it could take six months for the city to negotiate a lease with the developer, which could result in changes to the design, city administrators said. The marina segment of each plan will require federal, state and local permits.

Rafael Diaz, deputy city attorney, said no one can make "material changes" to the proposals at this point. "They can add or remove two floors from a proposed building," he said, as an example, "but they can not change the whole design."

The firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers has been hired by the city to do background checks on the developers, said Scott Berman, a partner with the firm. He said it is also going to investigate litigation and bankruptcy.

Evaluating the economic solvency of the participants and project feasibility will be part of a report due by mid-August.

Plans to develop the northern tip of 86-acre, manmade Watson Island were solicited in February. The city required that all the proposals be for a public-access development and include a mega-yacht marina, fish market and water-related facilities.

The island, on Biscayne Bay between downtown Miami and Miami Beach, has about 10.8 acres of upland and 13.4 acres of submerged land available. The chosen developer will hold a 45-year lease with options for two 15-year renewals.

Flagstone Properties of Miami and Orlando, which operates a resort Mediterranean marina in Atakoy, Turkey, joined with Camper & Nicholsons Marinas Ltd., an international operator, designer and broker of mega-yacht marinas, to develop a plan they call Island Garden at Watson Island.

Flagstone’s proposal calls for gardens, a waterfront promenade, fountains, retail space and more than a dozen restaurants. It leaves about 60% of the 10.3 developable acres open to the public.

Combined with hotels, a marina and fish markets, the project is estimated to cost $281 million, with the developer financing 40%, or $112 million, and an investment syndicate of local and international investors and banking firms paying the rest.

Building on a city-owned island has a price. Developers would pay the City of Miami $2 million per year. The base payment is followed by an additional upside 1% of gross revenues paid to the city after three years of operation.

Flagstone would pay $1 million for each year of construction, which could take up to four years. The city would also receive 2.5% of gross revenues from licenses issued to occupy timeshare units.

The project would feature a 48-slip marina for yachts 80 feet or longer. A model boat pond would serve as a children’s recreational center.

The development would feature a wave-shaped Conrad Hilton Hotel with 225 rooms and a lighthouse-like Hotel Regent, with 300 rooms. A 137,000-square-foot retail garden village would offer restaurants and bars surrounded by water.

Existing Pescaderia and Casablanca fish markets would be renovated and remain on the property. The plan includes a maritime gallery, built in conjunction with the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, and a continental garden with saltwater features commemorating the five continents designed by Fairchild Tropical Garden.

A rooftop garden, atop a garage able to accommodate 1,509 cars, would provide the pools and the spas for the hotel guests and visitors to Island Gardens.

The developer would create an endowment trust, financed out of net operating revenues each year, to pay for capital and operational needs of public spaces.

Flagstone Properties is led by Mehmet Bayraktar, CEO and chairman of a board that includes Sherwood Weiser of The Continental Cos. and Eric Kuhne of Eric Kuhne & Associates. They have been involved in developing waterfront projects such as Carousel Shopping Center in Istanbul, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Key Biscayne, Darling Park in Sydney, Australia, and Bluewater, England.

Swerdlow Marine Partners, an affiliate of the Swerdlow Group based in Hollywood, proposes to build the $135 million Miami Yacht Harbor. The group’s plans include a $13 million mega-yacht center for 57 or 72 yachts, depending on length, that would be accompanied by a marine industry exposition area with a museum.

A promenade overlooking the marina would be home to restaurants, shops, a fish market and courtyard overlooking the water, according to the plan.

A $50 million Ripley’s Aquarium, with more than 1.3 million gallons of saltwater marine life and underwater pathways, would be next to a 100-room hotel, according to the Swerdlow plan. The $40 million exposition center would offer marine products and office space, showrooms and space for boat displays for all major manufacturers and distributors. It would include a two-story garage with room for 1,150 cars.

Swerdlow Marine proposes to pay the city an annual minimum rent of $200,000 during the first three years, $220,000 in the fourth and $240,000 after the fifth year, plus a 20% of the rent the developer collects from tenants. The development would generate about $750,000 in property taxes to the city, according to the proposal, and a parking surcharge of about $240,000 per year. The developer estimates the city would get revenues in excess of $14 million in the first 10 years of the lease.

Master developers Swerdlow Marine Partners would oversee the management and operation of the project. The BellPort Group, with more than 10 years of experience, would operate the marina. Marine Expo Associates, an affiliate of the Swerdlow Group, led by Michael Swerdlow, would manage and operate the expo center. Ripley Entertainment Inc., a subsidiary of Jim Pattison Group, would manage and operate the aquarium. The hotel would be managed by a hotel operating company.

The Swerdlow Group is developer of the Dolphin Mall, Kendale Lakes Plaza, Las Olas Riverfront in Fort Lauderdale and the Great Mall of the Bay Area in Silicon Valley.

Watson Island Partners, a venture between BAP Development of Miami and Millenium Partners of New York, is proposing to build a lighthouse-style Four Seasons Resort surrounded by gardens featuring art exhibitions and open spaces along a waterfront promenade facing a 30-slip mega-yacht marina. Retail shops, restaurants and a tennis club would be open to the public.

The proposed project is estimated at $235.7 million. Millenium would secure 35%, or $82.4 million. A construction lender or syndicate of lenders would finance the balance.

In return for using public land, the Watson partnership proposes to pay the city $500,000 with a 3.5% annual increase. During construction, about three years, the city would get $250,000 a year.

Revenue participation would be another source of income for the city, according to the plan. City coffers would get 1% of gross revenue from the project’s fractional sales and resort-marina operations. The city would also get 1% of disposition or refinancing proceeds.

The complex would add $4.7 million to Miami’s tax rolls in the project’s first year, according to the Watson proposal. The 45-story tower would have 369 guest units, of which about 50 would be dedicated for overnight use. The remaining 319 would be sold as fractional license units for buyers to live there 45 days every year for a maximum of 75 years, similar to a time-share.

The tower would be topped with a high-quality restaurant and outdoor terrace on the 45th floor with a 360-degree, unobstructed view. The lobby would feature more restaurants and bars open to the public. An adjacent three-story parking garage would accommodate 529 cars for guests and visitors.

A 7-acre park would lead to a surrounding amphitheater and exhibit area, according to the plan. About 34,000 square feet of retail space would be placed along the open park and water’s edge for shops, cafes and specialty stores that would also be open at night.

The waterfront promenade would be open to water-related activities like water-taxi and special events. A working fishermen’s market would attract tourists, shoppers and the lunch crowd who could eat above the fish market in an open-air, upper-deck, raw bar near a free, 30-spot parking lot.

The proposal by Watson Island Partners included traffic projections. According to their proposal, the project could generate about 3,100 new car trips on the MacArthur Causeway. They said the bridge now carries 88,892 cars daily.

Other projects moving to the island would add more than 2,000 new cars daily to the causeways, according to the Watson Island Partners. Parrot Jungle, now under construction, could add up to 468 cars, the planned regional visitor center and aviation facility could bring up to 465 cars and the proposed Miami Children’s Museum would attract close to 1,121 cars, according to projections in the proposal.

The developer’s team includes French Riviera Ports Authority, the operator of mega-yacht marinas in Nice, Cannes and Villefranche in the south of France, which would operate the marina. Other team members include Gary E. Handel & Associates, or GEHA Bermello Ajamil & Partners or B&A, Martha Schwartz Inc. and Bovis Lend Lease.

GEHA and B&A are currently working on the design of the Four Seasons on Brickell Avenue for Millenium Partners, which would manage Watson Island’s tower. An escrow account would be maintained for capital expenditures.Details: (305) 416-1428.