Miami-Dade County

Marina redevelopment still alive as Miami weighs special meeting

A view looking east over the Rickenbacker Marina.
A view looking east over the Rickenbacker Marina. Rickenbacker Marina

An embattled plan to turn two public marinas into an island destination on Virginia Key has new life after a hearing officer upheld the selection of a developer and operator by Miami’s city manager.

With the dismissal of a bid protest from the runner-up, Mayor Tomás Regalado now plans to call for a special meeting of the City Commission to try and win approval for a sweeping redevelopment plan for the Rickenbacker and Marine Stadium marinas.

Commissioners — currently on an August recess — aren’t scheduled to return for business until Sept. 14. But if they reconvene this month, the city would have enough time to get the project onto the November ballot and approved by voters before Regalado leaves office.

“I figure that we will call for a special session in late August. We have until Sept. 8 to place items on the ballot,” Regalado told the Miami Herald, referring to a deadline set by the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections.

Regalado’s administration has been trying to redevelop the city’s Rickenbacker and Marine Stadium marinas for years. It came close last summer, but a proposal to award a long-term lease and development plan to RCI Group was shot down by commissioners amid allegations from the losing bidders and criticism from activists concerned with the scope of development.

On the second go-round, last year’s second-place bidder Suntex Marinas joined with RCI Group to form Virginia Key LLC, a team that was selected in June by an evaluation committee as the top-ranked proposer. Runner-up Biscayne Marine Partners, a team that includes Aabad Melwani, the current operator of the Rickenbacker Marina, protested on the grounds that RCI and Suntex had submitted flawed financial figures and disqualified themselves by designing a mechanical boat garage that includes county-owned property removed from the redevelopment site at the 11th hour.

if the contracting authority treats all of the parties who got it wrong equally, shortcomings can be accounted for and forgiven

Marc Douthit, hearing officer

But a hearing officer weighing the dispute dismissed the protest. Marc Douthit said it wasn’t in his purview to parse financial projections but found that Melwani’s team was equally guilty of using the parcel it claimed was off-limits since its plan used the area for access to its project.

“In the procurement context, if the contracting authority treats all of the parties who got it wrong equally, shortcomings can be accounted for and forgiven,” wrote Douthit, while acknowledging the city’s muddled solicitation.

The two competing teams received Douthit’s final ruling late Saturday. Biscayne Marine Partners would need to file an appeal with the 11th Judicial Circuit in order to challenge the ruling.

Regalado will now seek to secure three votes on the five-member City Commission this month in order to win approval for the winning $80 million redevelopment project and get a ballot question to the supervisor of elections. The mayor said Chairman Keon Hardemon and Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort — both of whom supported RCI Group’s proposal last summer — have told him they’re willing to attend a special meeting this month.

Of the three commissioners who voted against the project last summer, only Ken Russell responded to a request for comment from the Miami Herald, telling a reporter that he was on vacation with family and “not currently planning on a special meeting.”

Regalado says he has no plans to push any other project — such as the redevelopment of Miami’s riverside headquarters — onto the agenda for a special meeting.

He says the marina redevelopment is part of a larger plan to overhaul the north side of the Rickenbacker Causeway, where the city hopes to pay much of the debt on a $45 million renovation of the historic Marine Stadium with money coming in from the surrounding properties. Virginia Key LLC estimated that the city would reap $60 million in profits from its project within the first 15 years.

“It’s worth trying,” Regalado said. “It’s money for the city.”