Malaysian casino operator Genting, which has been pursuing plans for a marina for large yachts at the old Miami Herald property on Biscayne Bay, got a boost when the Miami River Commission endorsed the idea this week.
The commission, which has no approval power but advises local governments on development along the river, voted to support the marina plan 10-1 after a presentation from a Genting attorney on Monday. The plan also envisions that Genting would build a new public baywalk between the Venetian and MacArthur causeways.
Genting sought commission support because it is asking Miami-Dade County environmental regulators to approve the transfer of 42 existing boat slips from two river marinas to the bay. A county manatee-protection plan strictly controls construction of powerboat slips in the river and bay to protect the endangered marine mammals and their habitat.
The formal hearing was the first public confirmation by Genting, which bought the Herald property in 2011 for $236 million and announced plans for a massive casino resort on the site, that it intends to pursue approval for the 50-slip marina independently of development on dry land. The marina and baywalk were both part of Genting’s original vision for the property.
The company, which has been unsuccessful in persuading the Florida Legislature to approve gambling on the site, has said in the past that it still intended to build a hotel there, although without a casino. Genting has never submitted any plans to that effect to the city, however.
But Genting did submit marina plans to the county, and in July followed up with a letter proposing the slip transfers, prompting speculation that it was proceeding with that proposal without the resort piece. That’s something Genting attorney Spencer Crowley confirmed at the hearing.
Genting wants to move ahead with the marina application now because that can take “a long time,” Crowley said in an interview Wednesday. The proposed marina would accommodate yachts of up to 175 feet. Removing powerboat slips from the river would be better for manatees, which gather in the waterway in winter, Crowley said.
Under the manatee plan, Genting’s subsidiary is eligible for eight slips at the old Herald site, but could expand that to 50 slips if the transfer is approved. Even if that’s successful, the plan would require extensive environmental reviews, a process that could take years. The site is classified as essential manatee habitat and the bay bottom there has sponges, coral and a threatened species of seagrass, county regulators have said.
Because the bay bottom there is controlled by the city of Miami, Genting will also need a lease or agreement with the municipality to build the marina, Crowley said.
“We have a long way to go,” he said.
The upland has been mostly vacant since Genting finished tearing down the former Miami Herald building in March of 2015. The company also owns the old Omni mall complex next to the former Herald property, which stretches from the bay to Biscayne Boulevard. Genting is currently renovating the historic Art Deco Boulevard Shops building, formerly owned by Herald parent McClatchy.