The Herald recommends: City of Miami ballot questions

08/20/2014 7:43 PM

08/22/2014 1:35 PM

Even though there are no commission races in Miami this year, there are still three items on the Aug. 26 ballot that voters shouldn’t ignore. They can’t afford to — the city stands to reap welcome revenue to improve their quality of life and get a better return on city-owned property used for private purposes.

QUESTION 1: This proposal addresses the right of property owners to lease “submerged lands” — land underwater, but adjacent to their property.

Florida owns and regulates the vast majority of submerged lands in the state. However, some of these underwater properties in Miami were deeded over to the city early in the last century. (St. Augustine, too, has been deeded some submerged land.) But state law and Miami’s charter are not in sync, and property owners are caught in the middle. Should a property owner want to build a dock over land the city has been deeded, the city requires a request for proposals be submitted. State law does not, asking for proof of title, fair-market return and an environmental permit. If approved, this question would bring the city charter in line with state requirements, streamline the process, eliminate the RFP and bring more lease revenue to the city.

QUESTION 2: Because city-owned Watson Island was turned over to developers about 10 years ago, with no action seen until recently, Commissioner Frank Carollo has put forth this proposal to prevent what he calls “land-banking.” If private developers on city property have not obtained the required building permits within four years of the lease date, then the project goes back to the voters for approval to keep the lease. And the lease agreement is subject to renegotiation. The city loses money when land values increase, but is stuck with agreed lease payments negotiated when land values were lower.

QUESTION 3: Here, voters have to take the questionable in order to get the good. The city of Miami is locked into a lousy deal with Bayside Marketplace downtown. It doesn’t reap the city a heck of a lot of money, and merchants are complaining that the tourist attraction, which opened in 1987, is a dated, less-inviting version of its former self. Thing is, its deal with the city is iron clad, and has decades to go.

Now, developer Jeff Berkowitz wants to built a privately funded structure on a 1.85-acre parking lot on Bayside property. Shaped like a huge bent hairpin, the proposed 1,000-foot building — already, if prematurely, being called “iconic” — would bring retail, restaurants, clubs meeting rooms and a bit of Disney World to the water’s edge. Included would be the SkyRise Plunge, a controlled bungee jump, the SkyRise Drop, a 12-seat plummeting ride, and the SkyRise Flying Theater. The promises are flying pretty high, too: 3.2 million annual visitors; jobs for the residents of Overtown, Little Havana and Allapattah; and, a developer’s study says, a $1.039-billion economic impact for the city.

Because SkyRise is on waterfront property and would be a sublease, it allowed the city to renegotiate its lease with Bayside, with the city receiving much more revenue and an agreement that Bayside will renovate the facility. Where Miami now gets a little over $1 million annually, the new lease and SkyRise would bring in more than $3 million a year. Property taxes alone would triple, Mayor Tomas Regalado told the Editorial Board. Bayside operators pledge to spend $35 million for renovation.

The Miami Herald recommends YES to all three city of Miami ballot questions.

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