Nothing was easy in 2016 when it came to Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado’s high-profile bid to redevelop two city marinas on Virginia Key.
It doesn’t appear the new year will be any different.
Despite warnings by administrators that the city has no time to spare if it intends to ask voters to approve the marina project in 2017, Miami commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to delay until February the reissuance of a polarizing solicitation to rebuild Miami’s Rickenbacker and Marine Stadium marinas. They said the city’s request for proposal document — which has been in the works for months — still needs work before it goes out to interested developers.
“It’s my goal to get this [solicitation] on the November ballot, but I don’t want to do it at the expense of doing it incorrectly,” said Commissioner Ken Russell, whose district includes Virginia Key.
Commissioners killed the city’s last attempt to redevelop its marinas through a $100 million partnership with marina operator RCI Group, arguing that administrators had bungled the hotly contested solicitation from the get-go. This time, though the city has removed a controversial proposal to expand wet slips in the Marine Stadium Basin, commissioners say the city needs to be clear in its solicitation and have all issues addressed in order to avoid the bid protests and public fiasco that dogged the project over the summer.
Meanwhile, Miami’s Virginia Key Advisory Board, tasked with reviewing all things affecting the island, passed a resolution last week saying the solicitation still needs two to three months of work, as Miami Today reported.
But the process is only becoming more complicated as time goes on. For one, voters must approve any deal before it becomes final, which means the administration is rushing in order to approve a developer and agreement by July to meet the deadline to place a question on the November ballot free of cost to the city. They said Thursday that may now be impossible.
The marina redevelopment is also coming together during Regalado’s lame-duck year, and if it moves forward will be subject to a final commission decision during the middle of campaigns for city commission and mayor. A political committee supporting Francis Suarez’s mayoral campaign, for instance, received a $25,000 political contribution in November from LAN Downtown, a company registered to current Rickenbacker Marina operator Aabad Melwani. (Suarez, who did not make the motion to delay the RFP, said the donation was immaterial to his issues with the city’s solicitation.)
Also complicating things, commissioners recently voted to issue $45 million in special revenue bonds to restore and revitalize the historic Marine Stadium, leveraged in part on future earnings by the city’s Virginia Key marinas.
A frustrated Regalado criticized commissioners after Thursday’s vote for being political.
“There are too many lobbyists. There are several campaigns going on. Potential donors,” Regalado said. “It’s all about politics.”
Suarez, exasperated, shot back, noting that Regalado has always had trouble when it comes to developing waterfront land, whether on the Miami River, Dinner Key or Virginia Key.
“The real trend is not being able to get [a request for proposal] accomplished,” he said. “That’s the history. That’s a fact.”
This article was updated to correct the amount LAN Downtown contributed to Francis Suarez’s political committee. The check was for $25,000.