Miami-Dade County

Raquel Regalado wins legal fees, public-funds ban in SkyRise settlement

A rendering of SkyRise Miami, a 1,000-foot observation tower proposed for downtown Miami.
A rendering of SkyRise Miami, a 1,000-foot observation tower proposed for downtown Miami. ARQUITECTONICA

Miami-Dade mayoral challenger Raquel Regalado won a ban on public-funds for SkyRise Miami in settling a lawsuit challenging a $9 million county subsidy for the project championed by the incumbent mayor.

Regalado on Thursday produced a five-page settlement agreement with Bayside Marketplace, the downtown shopping destination that leases the city land where SkyRise would rise 1,000 feet above the Miami waterfront. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in late 2014 won approval of a $9 million business grant for the project, and Regalado sued on a claim that the public money violated the terms of a city referendum approving SkyRise as a “privately-funded” venture.

“The whole purpose of this lawsuit was to insure that the voters got what they wanted. That is a privately-funded project,” Regalado said Thursday. “Now it is going to be privately funded, and we move on.”

The settlement requires Bayside to pay $400,000 to cover expenses of Regalado’s lawyers, and comes a day after SkyRise declared it was dropping its pursuit of the county grant over a dispute with administrators over requirements for securing the public money. “We look forward to developing this iconic project, free from further purely political and self-serving distractions,” SkyRise developer Jeff Berkowitz wrote in a statement Wednesday.

Both SkyRise and Bayside, along with Miami itself, are defendants in the Regalado litigation, and the settlement only involves Bayside. The settlement has Bayside, who serves as SkyRise’s landlord, agreeing it will not “seek or accept any public funds” for SkyRise and that the project shall be “privately funded” as described in the August 2014 referendum. In court papers Regalado’s lawyers plan to file, they wrote SkyRise itself said it “will not seek or accept” public funds for the project or related infrastructure.

Auto magnate Norman Braman, Regalado’s top donor in her 2016 mayoral run, briefly joined her as a co-plaintiff and continues to fund the legal bills in the case. On Thursday, Berkowitz wrote he and his representatives have not had “any settlement discussions with either Raquel Regalado or Norman Braman or their lawyers.”

Asked if he had agreed not to seek public funds in the future, Berkowitz wrote: “No. I am not part of any settlement agreement.”

Richard Ovelmen, Regalado’s lawyer, declined to discuss the timing of the settlement talks and Berkowitz pulling his grant request. “All we care about is we filed suit to block public money from going to the project. And that’s what happened.”

Bayside, which won a city lease extension in the same ballot question that approved SkyRise, faced a debacle if Regalado succeeded in having the referendum overturned over the $9 million grant. A Bayside lawyer, Timoty Kolaya, declined to comment Thursday afternoon.

SkyRise has not begun construction of its $430 million project, and is counting on securing more than half of the money from the highly competitive sector of wealthy foreigners trading investment dollars for green cards through a federal program aimed at economic growth.

The courtroom showdown served as a proxy battle in the mayoral campaign, with the Gimenez camp blasting the two-term school board member as trying to block a voter-approved project while forcing both Miami and Miami-Dade to spend money on lawyers. When she dropped Miami-Dade as a defendant last September on procedural grounds, an Gimenez spokesman called the suit “frivolous.”

Regalado’s suit brought a thicket of political subplots, including the fact that she filed suit against the city where her father, Tomás Regalado, serves as mayor. (He objected to the county funding and said he was “proud” of her daughter’s challenge.) Miami hired a private attorney, J.C. Planas, to defend the referendum, and he said Thursday he would ask a judge to declare the ballot issue valid before dismissing the case.

“Raquel Regalado is taking her victory lap,” Planas said. “She should obviously do what is best for the city of Miami and accept this language.”