Mayor Tomás Regalado is worried that Miami commissioners will torpedo an $80 million marina redevelopment by playing hookey from a special Monday meeting needed to get the project on the November ballot. And he isn’t above a little goading to get them to City Hall.
“Your duty as a commissioner is to attend the meetings. Every single meeting. You show up. You vote. You say what you have to say, and we move on,” Regalado said Friday about the city’s five commissioners. “This is voter suppression.”
Regalado needs at least three of Miami’s five commissioners to return early from an August recess and show up at 9 a.m. Monday in order to hold a vote on the proposal to redevelop the city’s Rickenbacker and Marine Stadium marinas on Virginia Key. The city’s charter requires that voters approve of long-term leases of waterfront land, and the lame-duck mayor wants commissioners to submit a ballot question to the county elections department ahead of a Sept. 8 deadline in order to make sure the project goes to a referendum in November.
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His administration has pushed the marina redevelopment for more than two years now, running into a number of roadblocks during that time, some of them self-inflicted. After an initial effort failed last summer, the city launched a second solicitation and selected a partnership between RCI Group and Suntex Marinas to oversee the project.
Your duty as a commissioner is to attend the meetings.
Mayor Tomás Regalado
The marina team wants to build a complex with 162 wet slips — a majority built for yachts 60 feet and longer — a mechanical Aero-Docks boat garage with 750 spaces, restaurants, a public bay walk and 30,000 square feet of marina-related retail.
A proposed 45-year lease with up to 30 years in extensions would have the developer pay rent starting at $2.2 million a year plus 6 percent of its gross sales. The team promised to pay the city $60 million over the first 15 years of the lease, and $1 billion over the entire agreement — money supposed to help the city pay down debt needed to restore and renovate the historic Marine Stadium next door.
“There is is no logical reason not to pursue this because it still has to go to referendum,” said RCI chairman Robert Christoph. “Let the voters decide if they want to move forward.”
But the results of the city’s competition remain under dispute. A bid protest was dismissed this month, but the current operator of the Rickenbacker Marina and second-place bidder, Aabad Melwani, plans to appeal.
We spent an entire year making sure we got the process right. To take it up for a vote while it’s still under dispute I think would be cart ahead of the horse.
Commissioner Ken Russell
Commissioner Ken Russell, a potential congressional candidate whose district includes Virginia Key, told the Herald last week that he will not attend Monday’s meeting because the city ought to wait until the legal challenge is resolved before moving forward. Commissioner Francis Suarez, who is running for mayor, said Friday that he’ll be in Orlando attending a previously scheduled conference with his law firm, GrayRobinson.
“He never called me, and has not called me in scheduling the meeting to begin with,” Suarez said of Regalado. “I’m not sure it makes sense even for the incumbent bidder to have it on the ballot. He only has two months to campaign, and if he loses it ends. And even if he wins it can be invalidated by the courts because there’s a legal challenge.”
Suarez noted that the project remains alive regardless of whether it makes the November ballot. Further, he added, a legal settlement between Melwani and the city allows the Rickenbacker operator to stay on site until all appeals are resolved, meaning the new operator wouldn’t be able to move in anyway until the legal process is done.
Regalado says Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort and Chairman Keon Hardemon have told him they’ll attend, raising the question whether Frank Carollo will show up and give the city the quorum it needs to hold a vote.
Carollo did not respond to text messages and phone calls. Regalado says Carollo told him he’ll “think about” attending.
“Some people have suggested why don’t you cancel the meeting because you don’t know if the commissioners are going to show up,” said Regalado. “My duty as mayor is to call for the meeting. The duty of the commissioners is to go and vote their conscience.”