Miami-Dade County

County will reclaim Rickenbacker parcel from Miami to keep alive causeway revamp

An aerial view of the Rickenbacker Marina and the causeway that runs along its border. Plan Z would shift the causeway to the north, toward the marina.
An aerial view of the Rickenbacker Marina and the causeway that runs along its border. Plan Z would shift the causeway to the north, toward the marina. Rickenbacker Marina

In order to keep alive a sweeping plan to create new park space and a cycling track along the speedway that is the Rickenbacker Causeway, county administrators have decided to reclaim land once slated for a public parking garage.

Michael Spring, a senior adviser to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, met last week with Miami’s city manager to explain that the county intends to exercise a reverter clause on a parcel deeded in 2013 to the city along the north side of the causeway. Spring said the county attorney’s office notified him recently that the city had missed a deadline to begin construction, and the county wants to keep the land vacant in order to accommodate architect Bernard Zyscovich’s Plan Z.

Spring said the decision doesn’t necessarily mean the county will endorse or fund Zyscovich’s causeway revamp, which would expand the recreational area around Hobe Beach and create a dedicated bicycling path by shifting the roadway north and into the parcel in question. But it’s a strong sign that those conversations — which have included the possibility of raising the toll on the Rickenbacker and seeking private dollars — are developing.

“We’re still exploring,” Zyscovich said Monday. “But this is a definitive example about the intention to begin moving forward on the concepts contained in Plan Z. And the conversation about money is a serious conversation.”

Spring said conversations around Plan Z remain conceptual. But taking back the property has real consequences to the city of Miami, which had included the planned parking garage as part of a solicitation for the redevelopment of its two public Virginia Key marinas.

Interested developers were told Friday that they’ll now have to include all their parking within their project area, and will no longer have the option of paying to have the parking authority include spaces in a garage between the causeway and the Marine Stadium Marina drystacks. Bidders were given an extra week to turn in their proposals — further pushing back a project that administrators have worried was already running up against a tight deadline.

The city charter requires that any long-term lease of public waterfront property be put to a public vote, and city officials want to get the marina project on the November ballot.

The change has already drawn criticism from Aabad Melwani, the current operator of the Rickenbacker Marina, whose attorney wrote a blistering letter Friday criticizing the city for failing to nail down a commitment from the county on the garage before launching its request for proposals. County commissioners previously approved a construction deadline extension, but a corrective deed was never executed.

Melwani’s attorney, Richard Perez of Holland & Knight, questioned the city’s belief that bidders can incorporate the changes and still meet a May 24 deadline.

“We are, frankly, speechless,” Perez wrote. “This does not merely change the boundaries of the [solicitation], but significantly alters design, approach, and financing.”

Spring said he made the decision to take back the property after a discussion with the county attorney’s office. He said County Commissioner Xavier Suarez — whose son Francis Suarez is a member of the Miami Commission and has expressed reservations about the city’s handling of the marina project — was not involved.

Spring said the county didn’t want to embarrass the city or complicate the redevelopment of its marinas.

“The entire point was preserve the option to move ahead with it,” he said. “The property was literally a roadblock.”