Miami-Dade County

Miami River restaurant complex needs city, voter approval

Riverside Wharf rendering
Riverside Wharf rendering

A stretch of the Miami River that for years has been home to stacks of crab traps and a commercial fishing operation could be redeveloped into a complex of restaurants and a fish market if Miami officials and voters embrace a developer’s proposal to build on public land.

Alex Mantecon unveiled the design and concept for his Riverside Wharf project this week after a competitive process launched over the summer by the city’s department of real estate yielded no other bids. The roughly $30 million complex, featuring four riverfront restaurants serviced by a fish market, would be built on two Miami-owned parcels and on land next door owned by Mantecon’s MV Real Estate Holdings LLC.

Mantecon, who is also building a mixed-use tower with self-storage and an 11,000-square-foot rooftop restaurant across the street, says the project would be another step in the Miami River’s evolution as a “culinary destination.”

“We believe that this area will become a great destination for the city of Miami,” Mantecon said Wednesday after revealing the design of the project. “There's nothing else like this in Miami. We’re able to have single-use, free-standing restaurants on the Miami River with full dockage where you can park a mega-yacht or a 20-foot boat.”

The city’s property is a little over 30,000 square feet, but is oddly-shaped, with five sides and little street frontage along the 200 block of Southwest North River Drive. But by combining that land with property owned by his company, Mantecon proposed four restaurants along the river, with a streetside promenade in the center. Mantecon says he would also build a public riverwalk.

The developer says his company is already getting interest from “national” restaurateurs. He also has Garcia’s Seafood on board, which would continue to purchase seafood from local fishermen, lobstermen and crabbers on the site, and sell the seafood to the surrounding restaurants. Garcia’s has operated on the city’s land for close to half a century, and has spent the last decade on a month-to-month agreement.

Luis Garcia said it was his father’s dream to establish a tourist-friendly fish market on the river after coming to Miami from Cuba in the 1960s. He says Mantecon’s proposal, which includes a Garcia’s raw bar, preserves his business’ existing jobs and the local fishing industry’s place on the river while making it more accessible and attractive to the public.

It will be a place “where people are actually going to see the operation right in front of them,” said Garcia, noting that his family will continue to operate its own restaurant up the river. “We want to make it sexy and tourist friendly, but keep it authentic.”

We believe that this area will become a great destination for the city of Miami.

Developer Alex Mantecon

The city is seeking $195,000 in annual rent plus a percentage of the operator's revenue in exchange for a 30-year lease with two 10-year options at the city's discretion. But it’s unclear if Miami’s chief administrator will push the project forward to a vote by the city commission and the public.

City Manager Daniel Alfonso, who attended a Miami River Commission committee meeting Wednesday to discuss the city’s plans to swap its riverside administrative headquarters, leaned over to a senior city official during Mantecon’s presentation and whispered that “this is the one we’re throwing out.” After the meeting, he declined to comment on the fate of Mantecon's bid.

Mantecon, who’d heard the city may halt the competitive process, said his team is ready to build if the city commission signs off on the project and voters approve of a long-term lease in a March referendum. He said his attorneys have told him his bid and the competitive process were sound.

“We have all our financing in place,” he said.

There is some pressure for Mantecon to build quickly. Immediately to the north, the Florida Department of Transportation plans to break ground on a replacement of the First Street Bridge as soon as 2017. The process could take years.

“It would be best served to execute a lease and get it to referendum before the First Street Bridge breaks ground. Because if it breaks ground, I don’t see anything breaking ground for five years,” Brett Bibeau, managing director of the Miami River Commission, told Mantecon. “The history of Miami is boom and bust, and I don’t know where we’ll be in five years.”