Miami-Dade County

Key Biscayne, Miami near settlement over boat show lawsuits

For $12.5 million, the village of Key Biscayne can purchase peace of mind by buying a stake and voice in how a new outdoor park and event space on Virginia Key will operate after it opens early next year, starting with the massive Miami International Boat Show.

According to a proposed settlement agreement released Monday by village officials, Key Biscayne and the city of Miami would jointly operate the facility next to the Miami Marine Stadium through a semi-independent park conservancy, as long as the village pays about half the cost of the project. The possible agreement, forged through seven mediation sessions dating back to April, also splits the $37.5 million cost of the long-sought restoration of the historic marine stadium.

“This is a pretty good deal for the city and it's a good deal for Key Biscayne,” said Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who represented the city in negotiations.

The settlement — which the city argued last week is confidential under state law until signed — could go before the Miami City Commission for a vote Thursday, and possibly the Key Biscayne Village Council the following day. However, as of Monday, the mayors of both municipalities indicated they were uncomfortable with the current state of discussions.

This is a pretty good deal for the city and it's a good deal for Key Biscayne.

Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said he still has concerns about turning over control of city land to an independent conservancy. And village Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay said in a statement that the city, after a handshake agreement, tried to change stipulations of the settlement.

“Key Biscayne has been negotiating in good faith and there was progress toward a resolution. Certain demands made by the city after the parties’ ‘final’ mediation session, however, regrettably now make that resolution more tenuous,” she said, declining later to elaborate.

If the settlement is approved, it would end eight months of contention between the city and the village, which sued Miami in February over plans to build a lawn lined with utilities and artificial turf that could serve as both a park and an event space. The project is to be completed in time to host the Miami International Boat Show over Presidents’ Day Weekend.

Village officials — who separately sued the boat show’s parent company — claimed that the city’s plans violated a deed restriction placed on the land when it was turned over to the city decades ago by Miami-Dade County. They also warned that the plans would have serious impact on a nearby environmental preserve, and that it would dangerously overload the Rickenbacker Causeway, the one way in and out of Key Biscayne.

In June, Key Biscayne’s mayor agreed to seek a settlement with Sarnoff. What they came up with would limit what happens on the location, and potentially force the boat show to find a new home as early as 2017.

According to the document released Monday, and first reported by the Islander News, the National Marine Manufacturers Association will still be allowed to host its flagship trade show at the stadium this year. The nonprofit plans to host hundreds of vessels on land and in the water over an area that stretches from the Rusty Pelican to the Miami Rowing Club north of the causeway. The show can be held again on the site at the city’s option unless there’s a death directly attributed to the event, an incident in which an emergency rescue patient can’t make it to a hospital, or if there’s a “catastrophic event.”

After 2017, the fate of the boat show would be in the hands of a private conservancy governed by six members, three appointed by the city and three appointed by the village.

Under the settlement, the conservancy, guided by an executive director and staff, would be responsible for managing the park and finding funding for its operation and maintenance. The conservancy would also control an operational plan and be tasked with voting on any proposed uses that aren’t included in the settlement, including the boat show.

What is included as an accepted use is small events of up to 500 people, five larger events of up to 7,500 people each year, sporting competitions, events utilizing the stadium and “self-contained” events on the west side of the park. The eastern portion of the “flex park” would have to be open for use by the public 320 days out of each year.

The settlement, previously discussed by both village and city officials in closed-door meetings, would be executed after the filing of a 30-year restrictive covenant with two additional 10-year options. The village would only pay the full $12.5 million to the city after the covenant is executed, and within five days would drop its lawsuits.

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