Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado wants a court to overturn last summer’s city vote approving the SkyRise Miami observation tower, citing missteps by the city her father leads as mayor.
The motion asking a court to strike down the August 2014 vote mostly repeats arguments made in the original lawsuit she and campaign backer Norman Braman filed earlier this year. But the details lay out their case against Miami officials for describing SkyRise as a “privately funded” project even as the tower was seeking millions of dollars in county subsidies.
City and county officials argue that no conflict exists, in part because SkyRise’s pursuit of government dollars was publicly known well before the referendum.
At stake could be Miami’s newest and most ambitious tourist attraction, a 1,000-foot tower with thrill rides, restaurants and observation decks 100 stories in the air. But the litigation also presents a case study in the complex politics under way in the 2016 county mayoral race, where Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is squaring off against Regalado and, by proxy, her father, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado.
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Mayor Regalado makes several cameos in the newest motion. The filing faults Miami for green-lighting the ballot language despite SkyRise’s disclosing its pursuit of county dollars months before the referendum. But Braman and Regalado’s lawyers spell out Tomás Regalado’s contention that he didn’t know about the county request until it became public.
“The mayor made clear in public statements that he was not informed of the SkyRise effort to obtain public monies,” the motion reads.
Gimenez championed the $9 million SkyRise subsidy that is at the heart of the lawsuit, and Tomás Regalado sent letters to county commissioners last fall urging them to reject it. Commissioners approved the money in December, though SkyRise has yet to negotiate a final deal for the funds, which come from a borrowing program backed by county property taxes. Like all county property owners, Miami residents also pay the tax that would benefit SkyRise.
“This lawsuit seeks to hold our local government accountable for the promises it made the public,” plaintiff lawyer Enrique Arana said in a statement.
On Thursday evening, Gimenez’s county spokesman, Michael Hernández, said in a statement: “By now, School Board Member Raquel Regalado is certified to teach ‘How to file frivolous lawsuits for political purposes at the expense of County and City taxpayers 101.’”
Raquel Regalado, now in her second four-year term on the school board, and Braman, a billionaire auto magnate, want a judge to declare the city vote invalid, since SkyRise is in line to receive $9 million from Miami-Dade County to fund parking and other projects around the proposed tower.
Months before the referendum, SkyRise developer Jeff Berkowitz wrote to Alice Bravo, then Miami’s deputy city manager, to lay out how he planned to pay for the $430 million project. One category listed between $10 million and $20 million in “government funds” from the county and state. (Bravo this week began her new job as Gimenez’s transit chief.)
SkyRise’s request for county dollars did not get significant public attention until weeks after the referendum, though its failed pursuit of state money made headlines well before the vote. (The Crespogram blog reported on the county request two months before the referendum.)
Family ties between the plaintiff and mayor prompted Miami to hire outside lawyer J.C. Planas to represent it in the Regalado-Braman suit, which was filed against Miami-Dade, too.
A key defense in the suit is the exact purpose of the county dollars. Rather than subsidize construction of the 1,000-foot tower, the money was awarded as part of an economic-development program set to fund “public infrastructure” projects for SkyRise. That includes a garage, utility hook-ups and roadwork, according to the most recent county summary.
“Plaintiffs would at least have a shred of an argument if the City of Miami would have turned around and offered public money to build the tower itself,” Planas wrote in a statement Thursday. “In this case, there is a totally separate government that has tentatively approved money for infrastructure for the project, not for the tower itself.”
This week’s motion rejects that argument: “These purported ‘infrastructure needs’ are essential elements of the SkyRise project and express obligations of the SkyRise developer.”
The next hearing on the case is scheduled for Oct. 5 in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
The online version of this story was updated to include Crespogram’s reporting of SkyRise’s pursuit of county dollars.