Miami-Dade County

No-bid deal blocked on PortMiami commercial site

The county commission decided Thursday not to allow a no-bid process for a coveted parcel of waterfront land in the southwest corner of PortMiami.
The county commission decided Thursday not to allow a no-bid process for a coveted parcel of waterfront land in the southwest corner of PortMiami.

Developers trying for exclusive negotiations on prime waterfront at PortMiami saw their no-bid request rejected Thursday as Miami-Dade commissioners pressed for a competitive process.

The 3-3 vote at the county’s Trade and Tourism committee effectively killed the proposal by Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, who had pushed the idea of jump-starting port development by letting a $250 million project called Miami Yacht Harbor start deal negotiations right away.

“How do we know we are getting the best?” Commissioner Rebeca Sosa asked before voting against the proposal, which would bring a mega-yacht marina, hotel and commercial trade center to the port’s southwest corner.

Backers of the plan saw it as a way to jump-start the five-year effort to bring commercial activity to the port’s largely vacant southwest corner. Despite a trip to Asia last year touting a development strategy, PortMiami has yet to invite developers to bid on the land.

“We have a local developer who has answered the call,” Barreiro said. “I don’t want to stagnate and wait.”

David Beckham is the site’s most famous suitor, but his failed bid to bring a soccer stadium there came as other developers were eager to gain control of the prime site facing downtown Miami. Port chief Juan Kuryla said he has met with four or five development groups interested in the land, and about 20 have inquired about it.

Miami Yacht Harbor secured early support in its bid for exclusive negotiations on the land but faced an uphill effort to win the committee’s endorsement after the plan became public. Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, one of three sponsors of the resolution allowing the negotiations, withdrew her name from the legislation as the meeting began.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez came out against the plan publicly this week. Simon Ferro, father of Gimenez’s chief of staff, serves as a prime lobbyist for Miami Yacht Harbor.

Miami Yacht Harbor still plans to compete for the property should PortMiami issue a request for development proposals, said Opal Jones, an executive with the group. “We’re not going away,” Jones said.

Despite dropping her sponsorship, Edmonson voted for the resolution Thursday. So did Barreiro and his remaining co-sponsor, Dennis Moss. Joining Sosa on the no side were Commissioners Xavier Suarez and Jose “Pepe” Diaz. “This county in the last couple of years has seen untold numbers of waivers of competitive bidding,” Suarez said.

After the Miami Yacht Harbor vote, commissioners unanimously approved two no-bid leases for space at Miami International Airport: one for the Perry Ellis clothing store and one for a restaurant owned by Emilio and Gloria Estefan’s Bongos company. Though aviation contracts often spark expensive procurement battles, airport executives said they wanted to waive the competitive process as part of an effort to lure “iconic” local brands to a part of MIA aimed at Miami flavors and shopping.

“We want to make sure whatever we put there is very, very identified with Miami-Dade County,” said MIA director Emilio Gonzalez.

The Estefan restaurant would be a grab-and-go outlet in an MIA food court, and would be the first to use the “Estefan Kitchen” brand by itself, said Frank Amadeo, president of Estefan Enterprises in Miami Beach. The menu will be based on a Cuban cookbook the Estefans published several years ago, and also include staples of Cuban food like cortaditos and medianoche sandwiches. “We’re going to do a lot of mojitos,” Amadeo said.

The Bongos parent will pay 14 percent to 19 percent of its sales to MIA, which executives said was a competitive rent based on other airport contracts. But Barreiro and others favorable to Miami Yacht Harbor noted how easily MIA won support for waiving an established competitive process while that was out of the question for the port venture.

“You talk about process from here to eternity,” he said. “But when there’s a will, there’s a way.”

“I am frustrated,” Jones said after the vote. “I’m not saying anything bad about Bongos. But what’s fair for one should be fair for everyone.”