Miami-Dade County

Miami won’t pursue oceanfront club on historic black beach — for now

Hundreds of volunteers collect trash and debris during the shoreline cleanup at Virginia Key Beach Park in 2015. G and G Business Developments wants Miami to pursue a beachfront club at the park.
Hundreds of volunteers collect trash and debris during the shoreline cleanup at Virginia Key Beach Park in 2015. G and G Business Developments wants Miami to pursue a beachfront club at the park. Miami Herald file

Uncomfortable with a luxury condo developer’s plan to build an oceanfront club on a once-segregated beach, Miami commissioners on Thursday stopped short of pursuing an unsolicited bid for a $4 million pavilion at Virginia Key Beach Park.

G and G Business Developments, the builder behind the Aston Martin Residences in downtown, wants to construct and manage a lounge overlooking the city’s lone sandy Atlantic beach area on Virginia Key. The company — the real estate arm of the Argentine Coto family — offered in December to build the oceanfront venue, and its attorney assured commissioners Thursday that the facility would be open to the public.

But the original concept behind the project made some uneasy.

Initially, the developer conceived the idea as an amenity for use by condo owners at the Aston Martin condo tower planned at the mouth of the Miami River. A letter attorney Iris Escarra sent to the city in December contemplated the creation of two buildings atop an elevated platform, one a public event space and the other open only to members.

It wasn’t until conversations with the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust, which runs the historic, former “colored only” beach for the city, that G and G pledged to build something entirely open to the public year-round. The asset, which would be managed by the developer, would still serve G and G Business Developments as an amenity for its condo residents, but they wouldn’t have any access beyond what other city residents would have, Escarra said Thursday.

Still, Commissioner Ken Russell, who represents Virginia Key, said the evolution of the proposal makes it hard to consider, even if a 2003 master plan of the park included a beach pavilion.

“By coming to me first, we could have worked out and gotten maybe to where you are now,” he said. “The story that got us here speaks to the intention of the developer, and that betrays the trust of the public.”

No one from the Trust or its board came to City Hall to speak about the project, which they’ve discussed for weeks with G and G representatives. But in a letter last month, Gene Tinnie, chairman of the Trust’s board, said the board “holds a predominately favorable yet conditional opinion of the viability” of the proposal based on commitments to keep the venue open to the public and owned by the public.

Pressed for more details, Escarra declined Thursday, noting that competitors will get a chance to match her client’s offer if the city decides it’s interested.

“I’m sort of competing with myself,” she said.

Under a relatively new Miami law, commissioners must vote to allow the pursuit of an unsolicited bid before administrators can consider it and allow competing proposals. They stopped short of doing that Thursday, and told Escarra to further vet the proposal with the city’s Virginia Key Advisory Board before coming back to them.

Commission actions

Also on Thursday, Miami commissioners voted to:

▪ Give tentative approval to a rewrite of the code governing the Civilian Investigative Panel. The new legislation would remove commissioners from some of the decision-making around the police oversight agency by distancing them from board appointments and creating a dedicated funding stream equal to 0.05 percent of the police department budget.

▪ Give tentative approval to legislation requiring that landlords evicting month-to-month tenants give them at least 30 days to vacate the premises.

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