Visitors Bureau Considers Abandoning Watson Island Project
By Susan Stabley
With the loss of a major chunk of financing, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau will consider in September whether to abandon hopes for new headquarters at the proposed $11.7 million Watson Island Aviation and Visitors Center.
The bureau must either recover the money, consider extending its lease at its current offices on Brickell Avenue or look to Miami Beach for a new home, said Tony Goldman, bureau chairman.
"We need to make a decision," Mr. Goldman said Tuesday. "We need to assemble all our options and make our move."
That next move is likely to come during the bureau’s September executive committee meeting, he said.
The bureau lost $3.8 million in convention-development tax funds from Miami-Dade County when it failed to break ground Dec. 31 on Watson Island. The City of Miami gave the bureau until June 30 to get an extension of the grant, said Laura Billberry, assistant director for the city’s economic-development department.
But with tourism faltering, fewer tax dollars have been collected than was projected, said county finance director Rachel Baum.
Most county-tax revenue is encumbered by bond issues, she said.
"So at this point, the revenue is not there," Ms. Baum said Tuesday. "That’s not to say they won’t be two years from now."
Mr. Goldman said difficulties in taking possession of the property prompted the missed deadlines. A former tenant on the site fought the eviction of a bait and fuel shop but agreed to leave June 7.
In the works since 1997, the new complex would combine bureau headquarters and a press center with seaplane and helicopter bases.