Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber chided Miami-Dade leaders on Wednesday for a rushed vote on a two-month-old proposal by casino giant Genting to start a county bidding process for a monorail linking the resort city to downtown Miami.
In a letter, Gelber asked Miami-Dade commission chairwoman Audrey Edmonson to delay Wednesday’s vote to give the city time to analyze the proposal and let the county finish a tax-funded study by the Parsons engineering firm of the “baylink” commuting route.
“This accelerated timeline poses challenges,” Gelber wrote of the eight days that have passed between Miami-Dade revealing the existence of the Genting proposal and the commission’s scheduled July 10 vote to move forward with the bidding process.
The longtime anti-gambling advocate also warned against the plan by Genting — which is lobbying to change state law in order to build a casino resort on land it owns along the route — linking Miami Beach transit with a casino.
“I believe that most or all of my Commission will strenuously object to any plan that might allow for, or even contemplate, a casino that is placed nearby or that is actually tethered to our community,” he wrote.
Gelber is the first elected official to publicly raise concerns about the Genting plan, which combines the Malaysian casino company with BYD Co., a Chinese monorail manufacturer. Also in the “Miami Beach Monorail Consortium” that made the proposal are two leaders of Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s 2016 reelection campaign. Finance chairman Ralph Garcia-Toledo and campaign manager Jesse Manzano-Plaza are partners in Aqualand Development, another firm in the consortium.
They’re proposing a modern monorail system built by a Chinese company backed by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment fund. If completed, it would deliver a transit system promised voters in a 2002 referendum for the half-percent transportation sales tax. Miami-Dade has been pursuing the project since Ronald Reagan was president, with the first “baylink” study delivered in 1988.
The July 10 County Commission vote is only to accept or reject Gimenez’s recommendation to launch a procurement competition requested by Genting, which owns the downtown property that once housed the Miami Herald. But while Genting could face competition from other bidders, Gelber suggested the monorail plan may be hard to stop once the commission says yes to the process.
“While I recognize that merely approving the publication of a solicitation does not commit the County or the City to a specific plan,” Gelber wrote, “I also recognize that when the metaphorical train leaves the station, it’s difficult to alter its route.”
Gimenez and Edmonson have declined to comment on the Genting proposal, citing confidentiality rules governing proposals deemed “unsolicited” under state law.
The Gimenez administration received the Genting proposal on May 2, and county rules give the mayor 90 days to issue a recommendation to the commission. Roughly two months later, he revealed his recommendation Tuesday night when the commission released its agenda for next week’s meeting. Gimenez communications director Myriam Marquez said in a statement this week: “The mayor is complying with the ordinance that requires a 90-day review.”
State law exempts the Genting proposal from open-records laws until Miami-Dade has a chance to invite competing bids. An initial analysis prepared last spring by Parsons estimated a monorail system between Miami and Miami Beach would cost as much as $1 billion to build and another $18 million a year to operate.
The study considered a system stretching from Miami’s Design District to South Beach, and it’s not known if Genting has proposed a shorter monorail line running just the five miles between downtown and the beach.
A summary Gimenez released Tuesday night declared the Genting proposal “financially viable.” Genting and partners would pay to build the system, then operate and maintain it under a county contract.
It’s not known how much the deal would cost taxpayers, but Miami-Dade could tap a range of revenue sources for the project. A draft agreement between Miami and Miami-Dade to extend the Omni anti-blight district that covers the Genting property includes a provision to use $50 million in property taxes for the Miami portion of any new transit project that links to the beach.