The past few months have seen a flood of speculation surrounding negotiations between the Miami and Key Biscayne regarding the proposed commercialization of the Miami Marine Stadium site and arrival of the Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key. As a staunch proponent of responsible development at this site, the Village of Key Biscayne has taken on the role of custodian of this land, representing the interests of residents across Miami-Dade County.
Key Biscayne and Miami have spent countless hours deliberating in an attempt to settle our differences, including participation in seven mediation sessions. There was progress made toward a resolution, but our discussions failed in early October when the city, acting unilaterally, made last-minute changes to a proposed settlement agreement. Those revisions were unacceptable to Key Biscayne. Here’s why:
The village has always supported activating the Marine Stadium site so long as its uses are in line with the city’s own Virginia Key Master Plan, which was the culmination of years of community input and respects the deed restrictions on the land. Any agreement that opens the door to a commercial component on this land should also create new park space, limit the intensity of private use and protect the island’s natural habitat. In addition, any plan should include a road map for renovating the historic Miami Marine Stadium.
Unfortunately, the city’s vision is not consistent with these principles. By committing the site to large-scale events, including the Boat Show, for a significant portion of the year, residents and visitors will be cut off from one of Miami-Dade’s most popular recreation areas. Creation of a new “flex park” is a farce if the public lacks access to the park for months at a time.
Miami-Dade residents are already feeling the impact of the Boat Show’s proposed move, months ahead of the event. The Virginia Key Rowing Club, an anchor of the city’s master plan, recently lost access to its parking lot and waterfront location. Making matters worse, the city refuses to renew the Rowing Club’s lease.
Environmental issues also abound. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has raised serious concerns about the Boat Show’s potentially negative affect on the ecosystems of Virginia Key and Biscayne Bay, home to manatees, shore and water birds, sea turtles, mangroves and other vulnerable species. For this reason, the Boat Show’s operators have been unable to secure a number of requisite environmental permits.
As if losing access to public waterfront land weren’t bad enough, Miami taxpayers will also be footing the $20-million bill for a plan that entirely overlooks the Miami Marine Stadium. Key Biscayne strongly supports renovations to the long overlooked stadium, as the stadium is an integral part of the Virginia Key Master Plan.
The Boat Show’s relocation to Virginia Key is, by no means, a forgone conclusion. Environmental approvals are on hold, three lawsuits are challenging whether commercial events are permissible on this site and Key Biscayne has asked the courts to mandate a referendum in which voters can decide how their public waterfront land is used. Meanwhile, the city is moving forward with construction, which is expected to cost taxpayers upwards of $20 million.
Fortunately, several locations that could provide an appropriate temporary home for the Boat Show while saving taxpayers millions. One of these venues is Marlins Park in Little Havana. Relocating the land-based retail component of the Boat Show to the existing stadium will keep the event — and its economic impact — local while taking advantage of infrastructure already in place, such as city-owned parking garages and public transit.
There is still time to devise a reasonable solution that ensures the Boat Show can take place as planned in 2016. It’s incumbent upon the city of Miami to be transparent and forthcoming in finalizing a plan that creates meaningful park space, ensures public access, protects the environment and spends taxpayer dollars in a responsible manner.
Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay is mayor of Key Biscayne.