Miami-Dade County

Judge: Lawsuit against SkyRise Miami tower can proceed

In this Monday, March 30, 2015 photo, developer Jeff Berkowitz talks about the SkyRise project at his office in Miami. Last summer, Miami voters approved a $430 million downtown tourist tower to be built beside Biscayne Bay with the understanding no public money would be spent. Now that Miami-Dade County is proposing a $9 million subsidy for infrastructure improvements, the Miami mayor’s politically ambitious daughter, Raquel Regalado, and billionaire car dealer Norman Braman, are suing to stop it.
In this Monday, March 30, 2015 photo, developer Jeff Berkowitz talks about the SkyRise project at his office in Miami. Last summer, Miami voters approved a $430 million downtown tourist tower to be built beside Biscayne Bay with the understanding no public money would be spent. Now that Miami-Dade County is proposing a $9 million subsidy for infrastructure improvements, the Miami mayor’s politically ambitious daughter, Raquel Regalado, and billionaire car dealer Norman Braman, are suing to stop it. AP

A lawsuit seeking to block public funding for the SkyRise Miami observation tower cleared a legal hurdle Friday, with a judge ruling that plaintiffs Raquel Regalado and Norman Braman are free to pursue the litigation.

Circuit Judge Samantha Ruiz-Cohen rejected motions by the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County to dismiss the case on the grounds that Regalado, a school board member, and Braman, an auto dealer, had no authority to challenge the 2014 referendum that gave the go-ahead to the 1,000-foot tower set to rise above the Miami waterfront.

The case presents its own political subplots. Regalado is running against Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who championed county funding for SkyRise. Her father, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, leads the city that is a defendant in the action. Mayor Regalado campaigned for the SkyRise referendum, but turned on the project after Miami-Dade agreed to give it a $9 million economic-development grant. Braman is Raquel Regalado’s top campaign donor.

The lawsuit claims that the county funding for SkyRise violated language of the city referendum, which described a “privately funded” project and passed overwhelmingly in August 2014. Supporters of the tower noted that SkyRise, which is not a defendant in the suit, had notified Miami in writing that it was seeking county funds and publicly campaigned for state tax dollars well before the referendum. Miami-Dade earmarked the money four months after the election.

Richard Ovelmen, the Carlton Fields Jorden Burt attorney representing Regalado and Braman, said the decision shows “that citizens can enforce the charter and enforce the elections laws in Dade County and in the City of Miami.”

Ruiz-Cohen’s ruling merely allows the suit to continue. Oren Rosenthal, the Miami-Dade attorney assigned to the case, said the county “is considering its options.”

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