Miami-Dade County

Group tied to Marine Stadium bid now trying for PortMiami

Carnival Cruise Lines new Carnival Breeze is docked at PortMiami in this 2012 file photo.
Carnival Cruise Lines new Carnival Breeze is docked at PortMiami in this 2012 file photo.

Some of the executives behind a failed bid for a large commercial development at Virginia Key’s Marine Stadium are now pursuing another ambitious project at PortMiami.

Manuel Alonso-Poch, a lawyer whose contentious past caused friction in the Virginia Key effort, is part of the team pursuing a no-bid lease on the southwest corner of Miami-Dade County’s port to create the $250 million Miami Yacht Harbor complex. Alonso-Poch’s former partners in the Marine Stadium effort, Rene Lacomb and Jean Claude Verite, are the listed officers of Miami Yacht Harbor’s parent company.

Alonso-Poch said Wednesday there’s no link between the Marine Stadium initiative and Miami Yacht Harbor, where he said he is working as a lawyer rather than as an investor.

“It has nothing to do with Marine Stadium,” he said. “Except for the fact that they’re both on the waterfront.”

The port deal is up for a crucial committee vote Thursday, and the sparse details made public describe a substantial entertainment and maritime complex on prime waterfront facing downtown Miami. Documents released Wednesday by the county describe a 400,000-square-foot “Trade Center,” which would include a hotel with 300 rooms and 18 luxury “villas.” Other features include: restaurants, a mega-yacht marina and dry-storage area and 1,000 feet of docks.

Alonso-Poch, Lacomb and Verite were officers in the company Expo-Miami, which was part of a larger consortium pursuing a $121 million maritime complex at Marine Stadium last year. Supported by Gloria Estefan and promising a grand new home for the Miami International Boat Show, the plan imploded late last when political leaders balked at the size. Organizers agreed to pursue something smaller for the area.

Alonso-Poch left the Expo-Miami corporate leadership as the stadium project ran into trouble and some leaders of the Marine Stadium bid said his involvement was an issue. Alonso-Poch had attracted scrutiny for his role as founder of the Academy of Arts & Minds charter school, which paid rent and vendor fees to companies tied to Alonso-Poch.

In the port project, Alonso-Poch said he’s only working as a lawyer for Miami Yacht Harbor. He’s included in a batch of emails released by the office of County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro. He is sponsoring the legislation that would instruct Mayor Carlos Gimenez to negotiate exclusively with Miami Yacht Harbor for a 45-year lease on a nine-acre port site. There would be an option for another 45-year term.

On Aug. 21, Alonso emailed Miami Yacht Harbor’s team to complain that county lawyers weren’t accepting legislative language that the group’s lawyers and lobbyists were supplying Barreiro’s office. A Barreiro aide, Marlene Avalo, often forwarded messages from the development group to the assistant county attorneys (ACA) working on the proposed legislation, according to emails released as part of a public-records request.

“The version we sent them last night was totally ignored,” Alonso wrote to Lacomb and others involved in the project. “Please forward our comments to Marlene and let her know that the ACA draft again does not state the Commissioner’s intentions and sets him and us up for failure. The language does not reflect what the Commissioner is directing the Mayor to do...”

In an earlier email, Miami Yacht Harbor lobbyist Opal Jones wrote Avalo on Aug. 12 with “suggested language that you can use to attach to your transmission” to assistant county attorneys Steve Bass and Richard Seavey. It continued: “Mr. Bass and Mr. Seavey: Thanks for all your assistance in getting the attached Resolution finalized. Attached are the final redline and clean versions of the Resolution. The Commissioner greatly appreciates all the work you have done.”

Rather than copy the language as her own, Avalo simply forwarded the email to Bass. “Per our conversation,” she wrote, “please review attached.”

Miami Yacht Harbor wants to take over the lease of an existing port facility, and then negotiate with Gimenez for a new development deal. Gimenez has come out publicly against the request, saying he wants a competitive process for the prime waterfront.

Barreiro, whose district includes the port, said Wednesday he backed the proposal as a way to jump-start the long-delayed effort to bring commercial development to the port’s southwest corner. A 2011 plan outlined a development strategy, and port administrators are counting on real estate revenue to ease a budget crunch brought on by the high debt loads. Other developers are eager to pitch their plans, but Barreiro said there’s value in having a project ready to go.

“If the support is there, the support is there,” Barreiro said.