Bucking a recommendation by Mayor Tomás Regalado’s administration, Miami commissioners voted Thursday to consider a proposal to build a complex of restaurants on public land along the north bank of the Miami River.
Alex Mantecon’s Riverside Wharf project isn’t yet a done deal. The developer still needs approval by the commission and the city’s voters before he can redevelop the site where the Garcia family has run a commercial fishing operation for decades. But commissioners made their feelings about the project clear Thursday when they voted against a recommendation to reject the proposal and asked that the city ensure the project goes to referendum in March.
“It’s going to become a destination,” Commissioner Francis Suarez said.
Mantecon wants to build an attraction centered around four restaurants and a fish market serviced by the river’s commercial fishermen and crabbers. In the works for years, the project is estimated to cost about $30 million, and combines the city’s land with adjacent property owned by Mantecon’s MV Real Estate Holdings. It is designed in synergy with a mixed-use storage tower Mantecon developed across the street, and will expand the city’s public river walk.
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It’s going to become a destination
Mantecon is working with the Garcia family, who will operate the fish market and a raw bar. Garcia’s principal Luis Garcia believes the project will turn his family’s commercial operation into something of a tourist draw, where customers can pull up in a vessel and dock and then watch lunch coming off the fishing boat.
“Here’s an opportunity for our business to get a makeover and perhaps be a destination of our city that we haven't had before,” he said.
Mantecon submitted his proposal to the city in response to a city solicitation launched in June. Mantecon’s project was the only response.
But City Manager Daniel Alfonso told a senior official in September that he intended to reject the bid. And on Nov. 3, the city’s director of real estate wrote in a memo that the city should throw out Mantecon’s proposal and start the competitive process over again. He explained that the city could not meet the requirements of a new city law that demanded Miami get fair market value for city-owned submerged land. The project includes about 10,000 square feet of submerged land.
We do due diligence. Sometimes things go wrong
City Manager Daniel Alfonso
The commission rejected that argument Thursday. Commissioner Keon Hardemon noted that the city’s own documents showed that Miami doesn’t owned the submerged land, but rather leases it from the state. City Attorney Victoria Méndez responded that there is a dispute over who owns the land.
“We do due diligence. Sometimes things go wrong,” Alfonso told commissioners Thursday.
Regardless, the commission directed Alfonso to bring Mantecon’s project back in December for a vote so that the city can ensure a legally required referendum takes place in March. Voters would consider a 30-year lease with two 10-year options at the city’s discretion. Miami is seeking $195,000 in annual rent plus a percentage of the operator’s revenue.
Regalado said Thursday that the financial value of the project will be key to selling it to voters. He said he won’t support the project unless he’s confident that issues with the submerged land won’t affect Miami’s bottom line.
“At the end of the day, as far as people are concerned, it’s just another restaurant on the river,” he said. “They’re going to have to have a compelling argument for people to vote.”