The city of Miami may have to spend an extra $4 million to create a controversial outdoor event space on Virginia Key that meets the needs of the Miami International Boat Show.
In a memo sent Tuesday to city commissioners, Miami’s city manager explained that initial estimates of a $16 million project were well short of the actual cost. To complete the facilities with the amenities needed by the operators and exhibitors of the massive marine trade event, the city needs to invest more in electrical upgrades.
“Updated figures now predict a shortfall of $4.38 million,” City Manager Daniel Alfonso wrote. “The Administration will review this information further and come to the City Commission with a request for an increase in funding so that the project can be completed per the scope of work needed to meet our contractual obligation.”
For months, the city has been plodding forward with the construction of a paved, utility-lined lawn next to the historic Marine Stadium that can host major events and during down times be covered with artificial turf and used as playing fields. Commissioners agreed to pay for the project during the same January meeting they approved a license agreement to host the Boat Show, starting in 2016.
At the time, the estimated cost of the project was about the same as the estimate included in a failed plan by the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, a non-profit group that wanted to use the event space as a revenue generator to help operate the stadium. The city adopted the non-profit’s idea, but when city officials began to develop construction plans the scope of the project grew.
Around April, after a series of meetings, the National Marine Manufacturers Association agreed to pay the city about $3.25 million to pay for electrical upgrades. Now, the city says the project will cost millions more due to the need for greater amperage, additional electrical lines, and two, two-story electrical buildings instead of just one building at one story.
“Not every number in there is a solid number,” said Jeovanny Rodriguez, the city’s capital projects director. “Some are still estimates.”
But the increasing cost and scope of the project is fueling criticisms that the city is subsidizing a private venture and jamming too intense a use into an area near an environmental preserve. Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay, who is mediating with the city to avoid a lawsuit over the project, said “taxpayers deserve better.”
“The money pit is deepening as the Boat Show’s expansive plans come into view, and taxpayers are going to be footing the bill,” she said. “Growing the project’s scope and budget underscores the fact that Virginia Key is unsuitable for an event of this magnitude. Meanwhile, there hasn’t been a penny allocated for renovating the historic Marine Stadium.”
Mediation discussions have been private, but they began with a proposal that Key Biscayne might contribute money toward the project to retain control over what happens on the site. It’s not yet clear whether there will be a settlement, or if the village’s lawsuit against the city will proceed in circuit court.
The city had previously intended to ultimately fund the $16 million cost of the project through the sale of bonds. Miami’s deal with the Boat Show nets $1.1 million in base rent per year plus half the income from food and beverage sales.