In an emailed statement, Ross New York-based Related Companies said extensive analysis persuaded the developers that Watson Island is an ideal location for the shopping center. The statement did not address the claims of favored treatment, but noted that before anything happens, many steps must be accomplished at various governmental agency levels.
Sarnoff bristled at the suggestions of secretiveness and dismissed concerns over the impacts of the plan, most of which he contended were properly weighed when Island Gardens was originally approved by the city and by voters in a subsequent referendum.
He said the projects footprint would not grow beyond that original approval, and he described the additional commercial space Ross and Perez are considering their plan would more than double shopping space from the 220,000 square feet in the original scheme as a little more retail.
The commissioner, who also chairs the DDA, said he did not want the agency discussing the project because several members of its board are downtown Miami developers who have potential conflicts in reviewing a plan that might represent competition for their own projects.
He defended allowing Perezs Related Group of Florida and Ross New York-based Related Companies to make their pitch to join the project, noting that Island Gardens original developer, Flagstone Properties, has been unable to start construction even though the city has repeatedly extended its lease on the land.
The vote before the commission last month, he stressed, was not an approval, but merely another lease extension for Flagstone to allow the developers to flesh out their plan and determine whether its feasible.
Ive had no secret meetings with Jorge Perez and no double-secret meetings with Steve Ross. All we did was grant them an extension of time, Sarnoff said, before adding: Im getting a better developer. Youre not going to take that?
Sarnoff also ripped into Beach officials for intruding on city of Miami affairs at a time when theyre considering a convention center expansion project that would also bring additional traffic to the MacArthur. He derided the Beach officials for worrying about causeway traffic after having rejected a planned Baylink light-rail transit link some years ago.
In order for us to build a building, now apparently we have to go to the Beach as well? Do we get to vet their convention center? The people who are complaining about traffic on the causeway refused Baylink because they didnt want our people going over there, Sarnoff said. The full story is, the Beach wanted to have only people who could afford to pay $20 for a parking space.
Sarnoff also expressed irritation that Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales showed up to an advertised DDA public meeting at which the Island Gardens expansion was to have been discussed. The discussion did not take place because Sarnoff had the item taken off the agenda at the last minute, Goyanes and others said.
Sarnoff said Beach officials and members of the public will have a chance to debate the plan in future hearings before Miamis planning board and City Commission, when and if the plan is formally submitted to the city. That process would also require a new study of traffic impacts.