Raquel Regalado and Norman Braman filed suit against SkyRise Miami over $9 million in public funds that may never be approved or allocated, Miami-Dade County said in its response to litigation loaded with political drama.
Braman, a billionaire, is backing Regalado, a school board member, in her campaign to unseat Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who championed the $9 million subsidy at the heart of the plaintiffs’ suit. The defendants are Miami-Dade County and Miami, where Regalado’s father serves as mayor.
Mayor Tomás Regalado endorsed his daughter’s litigation, but the city he leads did not; in its own response, Miami said Regalado and Braman lack standing to sue, and also dismissed their core argument that Miami voters were misled in August when they approved SkyRise as a “privately funded” project.
“The City has no position in this lawsuit on the issue of the money from the County, only in ensuring that the results of the election are upheld,” Miami lawyer J.C. Planas wrote in a statement. Miami commissioners approved hiring Planas for the case after deciding the role of the mayor’s daughter presented a conflict for city lawyers, Planas said.
Raquel Regalado said in a brief interview that the responses dodged the heart of the allegations in the suit. “They haven’t dealt with the underlying issue: that voters were misled,” she said. The suit lists Miami and Miami-Dade as defendants, and seeks to either kill the $9 million allocation or require another city referendum on SkyRise.
The defendants’ responses touch on the process behind Miami-Dade County’s Dec. 16 decision to tentatively award $9 million in economic-development funds to SkyRise, a 1,000-foot observation tower planned to rise next to downtown Miami’s Basyside Marketplace.
It took two commission votes for SkyRise Miami to win the allocation after the first try ended in a tie, but developer Jeff Berkowitz still must conclude formal negotiations with Miami-Dade over a contract for how the money will be spent. That contract would then come back to the commission for a final vote. Even then, the economic-development dollars are only distributed after a project gets completed and is judged to have met certain hiring requirements.
In Miami-Dade’s response, county lawyers called the Feb. 5 suit misguided because it was premature. The suit “is nothing more than an improper invitation for this Court to enter into a hypothetical debate about a future event and seeks to, at best, waste judicial resources and, at worst, influence future political decisions of the County,” the response said.
Key to Regalado and Braman’s suit is whether Miami voters were properly informed of the funding situation for SkyRise. While Berkowitz’s pursuit of Miami-Dade dollars did not become public until after SkyRise won 68 percent of the Aug. 26 city referendum, the developer notified city officials earlier in the year of his pursuit of county money. SkyRise’s interest in state dollars also received media coverage before the city vote.
In its response, Miami wrote that Regalado and Braman had the chance to intervene before the election when it knew state dollars might be in the mix (the Legislature approved $2 million for SkyRise, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it two months before the vote). “Plaintiffs did nothing to try and stop the election,” Miami wrote of Braman and Regalado. “By not asserting their rights, with this knowledge before the election, Plaintiffs waived any rights they may have had to challenge the ballot language.”