Downtown Development Authority Wants To Expand Boundaries Tax Watson Island Projects
By Susan Stabley
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Miami’s Downtown Development Authority may be able to reap benefits from lucrative the growth planned for Watson Island with a proposal to enlarge its taxing borders scheduled for a Nov. 19 public hearing.
The authority wants to extend its reach from the current boundaries that run roughly from Northeast 24th Street to Southwest 15th Road and from the Biscayne Bay west to I-95 and a railroad corridor. The new geography would include some properties along Northwest 17th Street and Bayshore Drive and the northwest quadrant of Watson Island, said authority project manager Adam Lukin.
The city has an ambitious campaign to lease out that same section of the island for 45 years, with an option for two 15-year renewals, according to city documents. Flagstone Properties, a partnership with operations in Miami and Orlando, is negotiating with the city to build two high-end hotels, shops, restaurants and a mega-yacht marina there. Under the proposal, these future businesses could be added to the DDA’s jurisdiction, in which businesses are taxed an extra half mil in property taxes a year.
In return, the authority can help the "expedite the approval" of developments on Watson Island and elsewhere in its jurisdiction. Mr. Lukin said he knows of no talks of further extensions of the DDA border.
Watson Island, an 86-acre manmade island between downtown Miami and Miami Beach, is at the brink of a massive transformation. Although there have been many attempts to redevelop the island after a master plan was drafted in the early 1980s, none progressed until recently.
Earlier this year, Parrot Jungle broke ground for its new park to open next spring on the island. And, plans to move the Miami Children’s Museum there and to build a Greater Miami Regional Visitors Center are both under way.
The decision to expand the taxing authority comes at a time the Downtown Development Authority is lacking a permanent leader.
Former director Patti Allen, who led Miami’s effort to promote economic development in its commercial business district for seven years, resigned suddenly in March, just weeks after the agency’s chairmanship changed. City Commissioner Johnny Winton now leads the board.
Ms. Allen had been paid slightly more than $98,000 a year and left with a severance package worth $83,156. Filling the void is full-time chief of staff Alonso Menendez, who has since served as acting director. Annapolis, MD-based Joan Jorgenson Consulting was hired early this summer to cull a short list of candidates.
Since then the list of possible finalists has been whittled away to one candidate.
"We are not finalized yet but we are on the home stretch," said Loretta Cockrum, authority board member and chair of the search committee.
Ms. Cockrum said the committee held a final interview Oct. 18. She wouldn’t release the candidate’s name until it had been brought before the full board, but did confirm that it was an out-of-state applicant.
"We’re waiting on him to accept and finalize everything," Ms. Cockrum said.
A final decision might be coming within the next week, with board members meeting Nov. 8.
"No one is more excited than I am," Ms. Cockrum said. "This is a very difficult time for us."