Miami-Dade County

No compromise between Miami and Key Biscayne in Boat Show spat

Illustration of the Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key.
Illustration of the Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key.

Key Biscayne and Miami officials will enter into mediation after failing Tuesday to quash a lawsuit challenging plans to host the Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key.

Administrators, attorneys and elected officials from both cities gathered at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus during a rare joint meeting, in search of a middle ground after Key Biscayne sued the city in February. The three-hour session, held in front of a large audience, with many in it wearing Boat Show T-shirts, was part of a conflict-resolution process required by state law when one municipality sues another.

But the gathering felt mostly perfunctory, with the two sides remaining far apart. At one point, Key Biscayne Councilman Luis de la Cruz said he hoped the meeting would end with the village’s lawsuit moving into litigation, if only to allow the elected bodies to meet privately, outside the umbrella of Florida’s sunshine law, to discuss their next steps.

“Are we going to do this just for the photo op?” said Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado. “That’s not my understanding of why we’re here.”

Key Biscayne officials filed their lawsuit after Miami commissioners voted to spend $16 million to create an event and park space outside Miami Marine Stadium. They’re creating the venue in order to host the Boat Show next year, ostensibly as part of an attempt to raise money for a renovation of the shuttered venue, where boat races and concerts were once held.

Concerned that the city will overload the Rickenbacker Causeway with money-making special events and traffic, village officials filed a lawsuit alleging that Miami’s plans violated a 1960s deed restriction limiting the use of the Marine Stadium grounds to activities supporting the stadium. They have demanded that the Boat Show scale back its Presidents’ Day weekend event, which draws about 100,000 total visitors.

City officials remained noncommittal Tuesday, though they’ve said they want the event space to serve as a park most of the year for Miami and Key Biscayne residents. Meanwhile, Boat Show executives say the size of the show isn’t as vast as a permit application suggested, but remains non-negotiable.

They deny that the event will endanger a nearby wildlife preserve and say an elaborate traffic plan with water taxis and prepaid parking spots will prevent a logjam on the one way in and out of the tony island paradise. Key Biscayne officials, however, aren’t sold.

“Unfortunately, we’re not trusting,” said Vice Mayor Frank Caplan.

The lone hope for compromise may rest in whether village officials are willing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to help the city build the event space, referred to as a flex park. With city officials grumbling about Key Biscayne placing demands on land it doesn’t own, Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff suggested that the village could foot half the bill in order to purchase greater influence by becoming equal partners.

“You put in $8 million. We put in $8 million. And we’ll call it a joint venture,” said Sarnoff.

Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay said she thought the suggestion was worth discussing, which might be important now that state law requires the neighboring municipalities to enter into mediation. If that mediation isn’t successful, Key Biscayne’s request for a temporary injunction against the city will move into litigation, further escalating a flap that could ultimately threaten the future of one of South Florida’s most important tourism events.

In the meantime, a separate public records lawsuit filed by village officials against the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Boat Show’s parent company, continues to move forward, as do the city’s plans to renovate the Marine Stadium grounds to create its event space and park.