Here’s to hollow victories.
After he managed to whip Miami’s five commissioners to City Hall with some strong words, Mayor Tomás Regalado watched Friday morning as they torpedoed his plans to redevelop two city marinas on Virginia Key in just 11 short minutes.
The mayor had hoped commissioners would approve a potential 99-year lease with a developer planning an $80 million complex, and agree to place the project on the November ballot. Instead, commissioners — most of whom blew off a Monday meeting called by the mayor on the same topic — voted 4-1 to defer a decision, guaranteeing that the city will not make a Sept. 8 elections department deadline to nail down voter referenda.
“I feel vindicated because the five of them came,” Regalado said afterward. “This is not a defeat for the administration.”
I feel vindicated because the five of them came.
Mayor Tomás Regalado
That’s a sunny way of looking at things.
Regalado’s real estate department has spent most of his final term in office trying to redevelop the city’s Marine Stadium and Rickenbacker marinas, located on the northeast side of the Rickenbacker Causeway. They’ve argued that the public properties are in need of an overhaul, and that a sleek new facility designed for larger yachts and bigger bucks would help Miami pay for a $45 million effort to restore historic Marine Stadium next door.
But controversy and delays have dogged the effort. And on Friday, Regalado’s last-ditch effort to get the project on the ballot before he leaves office failed when Commissioner Ken Russell moved to defer a vote, saying that the city ought to wait until an appeal that is to be filed by the operator of Rickenbacker Marina — the second-place bidder on the marina solicitation — is resolved.
“I've studied the draft of their appeal. I do have doubts. I’d like to see what the judge has to say on that decision,” Russell said.
Afterward, Regalado called that reasoning “unusual,” saying the city is sued over “90 percent” of its projects but has never used litigation as a reason to delay its business. Al Dotson, an attorney for winning bidder Virginia Key LLC, led by RCI Group and Suntex Marinas, said “we look forward to winning the appeal.”
But there are other angles to the chess game playing out on Miami’s barrier island.
With only two full months left in Regalado’s final term as mayor, his administration will now turn to plan B: evicting Aabad Melwani, the current tenant of the Rickenbacker Marina, and operating the marina. City Attorney Victoria Méndez said her office is “looking into” the administration’s request to oust Melwani, whose family has run the marina for decades.
“It makes financial sense to try and gain the full value of the marina,” City Manager Daniel Alfonso told the Miami Herald after the meeting.
Later Friday, Richard Perez, an attorney representing Melwani’s bidding team, Biscayne Marine Partners, wrote a letter to Méndez in which he said Alfonso is trying to intimidate his client.
“Mr. Alfonso’s statements have only one plausible interpretation: he was attempting to intimidate Biscayne Marine into giving up its legal rights or face the wrath of the government he controls,” Perez wrote.
An eviction would likely be complicated and almost certainly end up in court. Melwani currently holds a settlement with the city stemming from a previous legal dispute that allows his Rickenbacker Marina LLC to stay on site through a month-to-month agreement until a new tenant is chosen by the city.
Alfonso said he understands a push to evict Melwani could be seen as retaliatory after his lobbying against the redevelopment helped keep it off the ballot, but said that’s not the motivation.
“It could be perceived that way but this is something we’ve asked for before,” he said about evicting Melwani. “It’s not a new question. And given that there’s no end in sight now it may make sense to just go ahead and take it over.”