The long overdue development of Watson Island, stalled for a dozen years by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a collapsed economy, may have received a huge jolt when New York’s Related Companies agreed to study the plan and possibly join forces in its development.
Developer Mehmet Bayraktar, who won the right to develop on the waterfront crown jewel back in 2001, said Monday that the company run by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has signed a Letter of Intent to “co-develop” the entire project.
“They will come in and we will work together jointly on the whole project. We’re co-developers or co-investors,” Bayraktar said Monday.
He described a Letter of Intent as a non-binding agreement in which both sides agree to do due diligence and spend time and money studying the plans. “It’s like an engagement, or a promissory note,” he said.
Ross was out of town Monday and couldn’t be reached for comment. Ric Katz, a public relations hand hired to help the Dolphins with the push to get public money for Sun Life Stadium renovations, couldn’t confirm the agreement late Monday.
According to Bayraktar, Related would be involved in three main components of the proposal: a hotel and residential complex, retail and a giant mega-yacht facility meant to lure some of the wealthiest people in the world. He estimated the project he won with a $281 million bid in 2001would likely balloon to a cost of about $800 million today. If Related absorbs 50 percent of the deal, it could put Ross’ investment close to $400 million.
“We’re planning to start building this fall,” said Bayraktar, who said he’s known Ross for many years.
The news was all good to Miami leaders who have struggled in dealing with Bayraktar, especially the past three years, when he fell behind in rent by as much as $500,000.
Several times they’ve threatened to kill the plan and reopen the bid to prospective developers. Each time, however, Bayraktar has been able to make required payments before the city rebid the project. Other times lobbyist Brian May was persuasive enough in pleading Bayraktar’s case that commissioners stalled killing the deal. “It’s fantastic news,” said Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who represents the district that encompasses Watson Island, a large circular spit of land that links Miami Beach to the mainland. “It shows we have someone who has the ability to get the ball across the goal. This type of project is right up his [Ross’] alley.”
Related, which specializes in high-end residential properties, also built New York’s Time Warner Center and CityPlace in West Palm Beach; it is currently working on the high-profile 26-acre Hudson Yards project on Manhattan’s West Side.
Bayraktar has been beset by problems since he won the right through a public vote to develop on Watson Island in November 2001.
The original $281 million plan would have yielded Miami a pair of ritzy hotels, one 18 floors and the other 28 floors. Shops, gardens, and restaurants were planned for more than 221,000 square feet of retail space, and a 54-slip mega-yacht complex called for matching 470-foot platforms.
Bayraktar’s company, the Flagstone Property Group, was to pay Miami $1 million a year in rent during the two years it would take to build, then $2 million a year and a percentage of retail and hotel room sales. Miami leaders drooled at the thought of $250 million into its coffers over the project’s 45-year lease.
But construction stalled as banks backed away after 9/11 and Bayraktar fought lawsuits and money issues. When the economy began to tank again in 2007 and banks again wouldn’t commit to the plan, the city granted him extensions.
Bayraktar and May have been a constant presence at City Hall since early 2010, soon after Tomás Regalado was elected mayor and made saving the Flagstone plan one of his top priorities.
“We expect to be open by 2016,” said Bayraktar.