Miami-Dade County

No pennies accepted: Venetian Causeway toll HQ could become restaurant

View of the Venetian causeway from Biscayne Bay on May 14, 2013. The far right corner of the picture shows a part of the county-owned building that could become a restaurant site.
View of the Venetian causeway from Biscayne Bay on May 14, 2013. The far right corner of the picture shows a part of the county-owned building that could become a restaurant site. El Nuevo Herald Staff

The building housing the Venetian Causeway’s toll-booth offices may become Miami’s next waterfront dining spot if Miami-Dade County pursues a plan to offer up the surplus building to the highest bidder.

A memo released last week by Mayor Carlos Gimenez includes the Venetian toll facility in a list of 51 potential projects for private businesses interested in partnering with the county government. “With the conversion to SunPass, the toll plaza office has little usage and can be converted to a restaurant or other facility,” read the memo. “The property is waterfront and offers views of the Miami skyline.”

Diners wouldn’t be able to reserve a table inside the toll booths themselves since the plan only involves an administrative building that sits on the water off the Venetian. SunPass, which uses digital transmitters or license-plate photographs to collect tolls, came to the Venetian last fall and ended the need for an extensive toll-booth staff.

A spokeswoman for the county’s Public Works department, which runs the Venetian toll bridge, said the restaurant scenario is far too preliminary to constitute more than a possibility. “The Venetian restaurant is just an idea among many other ideas that were included in that memo,” spokeswoman Gayle Love wrote Tuesday. “There are no concrete details for the Venetian venue at this point.”

Headlined “Potential P3 Projects in Miami-Dade County,” the memo ticks off dozens of ideas for privatization in Miami-Dade. The ventures are often called “public-private partnerships,” or “P3s,” and typically involve a for-profit company funding a project upfront in exchange for collecting fees or revenue from the government for decades.

Among the ideas listed in the memo: renovating county jails, redoing the Rickenbacker Causeway’s fishing piers, and building the Bay Link light-rail system between Miami and Miami Beach on the MacArthur Causeway.

Park activists are pressing Miami-Dade to open up more prime land for recreation, so any effort to privatize the site off the Venetian is sure to get attention. The causeway connects a chain of islands between Miami and Miami Beach, and the area is home to an active corps of property owners sensitive to development around the pricey neighborhood. The county closed the western drawbridge in June for a nine-month repair job.

Walking distance from downtown Miami, the building looks like prime real estate. It sits on the southern side of the island that houses the toll booths, and is home to the administration functions of what used to be a 24-hour toll-collecting operation. It faces the waters off Watson Island and would offer diners view of passing boat traffic and the downtown Miami skyline.

Even so, Steve Haas, owner of Miami’s City Hall restaurant, said he wouldn’t be eager to bid on the kind of off-the-beaten-path location the Venetian offers. “It’s a tough spot, even though it’s on the water,” he said. “You have to know where it is.”

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