Miami Agrees To Give State 15 Of Rent From Watson Island Project
By Susan Stabley
Miami officials have reached a tentative agreement to give the state 15% of the rent it collects from a planned hotel-retail-marina development on Watson Island, clearing one roadblock for the Island Gardens project.
The deal between Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection and the city requires the approval of city commissioners and a state trust that oversees the administration of public lands. The trust includes Gov. Jeb Bush, Attorney General Charlie Crist, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson.
The manmade island connecting mainland Miami to Miami Beach was given to the city by the state in 1949 for public use. The state originally sought a 75% share of the rent in exchange for allowing a commercial operation on the land.
Voters gave Flagstone Development approval in 2001 to build the project on the northwest tip of Watson Island after the city awarded the project to the company led by Mehmet Bayraktar of Turkey.
The city could collect annual rents of $1 million a year during the building phases and $2 million after completion of the project.
Flagstone needs to secure financing and flags for its two hotels as well as permits from the South Florida Water Management District, Miami-Dade County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management and the US Army Corps of Engineers.
The issue may come before the state as soon as June 24, according to the city and the Department of Environmental Protection, although it has not been scheduled.
Flagstone is expected to make a presentation May 10 to the city’s zoning board May 10. Public hearings on a major use special permit are scheduled before the Planning Advisory Board on June 2 and the city commission July 8.
The project has been approved by the county’s Shoreline Review Committee, which considered all projects along Biscayne Bay, on April 1. The city’s Waterfront Advisory Board was expected to consider the project Tuesday.
Some changes have been made to plans for the project’s hotels. Its Spinnaker Hotel was changed from 200 units to 380 and its Lighthouse Hotel from 300 to 120 rooms. The change in plans alters Flagstone’s lease with the city and would need to be approved by city commissioners, said Laura Billberry, the city’s assistant director for economic development.
The project faces opposition from a Miami environmental activist group that sent letters March 31 to city and state officials calling the project "an inappropriate use of waterfront land."
Urban Environmental League President Nancy Liebman said Tuesday that the city should create a master plan for the island, home to Parrot Jungle Island and the Miami Children’s Museum. The city also is pitching the island as the site of a proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas headquarters.