Downtown Miami

Filling in downtown Miami’s FEC boat slip could cost $232M. Will the city go for it anyway?

A view of the FEC boat slip that Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo has suggested would be more valuable and useful filled as park land.
A view of the FEC boat slip that Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo has suggested would be more valuable and useful filled as park land. Miami Herald Staff

For years, politicians and developers have coveted the historic FEC boat slip that brings Biscayne Bay into downtown Miami’s Maurice A. Ferré Park as a prime candidate for reclamation — that is, to be filled in to create valuable land where today there’s only murky water and the occasional docked tall ship or superyacht.

The latest is Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo, who persuaded a majority of his colleagues earlier this year to commission a study of the viability of turning the roughly 8-acre slip, once part of the Port of Miami, into a new chunk of much-needed parkland.

Carollo thought it could be done for $1 million an acre. Other guesstimates ranged from a total of $10 million to $20 million.

They were all off — by around $200 million. That’s according to an estimate drawn up by a national firm specializing in marine engineering.

The total cost estimate developed by engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol for the city: a mind-blowing $232 million, or about $26.5 million per acre.

Not only that, but the engineers diplomatically suggested the idea is a dubious one that’s not likely to be approved by federal, state and local permitting agencies, even if the city somehow musters up the budget-busting funding for the project. Just getting decisions on the multiple environmental permit applications required could take three to five years, with another two years for construction, the marine specialists at Moffat & Nichol said.

“The Project’s substantial costs, time, effort and agency coordination would require the City to significantly shift its resources to this single project to the detriment of many other critical City requirements and initiatives,” the report says. “Other green space projects may provide a higher benefit to cost ratio and be a more prudent use of funding and staff effort.”

That ought to spell the end of that idea, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said. After reading the report, Miami City Manager Emilio Gonzalez concluded the project is not feasible.

“I think it kills it, even if someone knows where to find $200 million, because I don’t — and certainly not for that,” Suarez said in an interview. “On top of everything else, it’s extremely controversial.”

But Carollo, a persistently harsh Suarez critic, isn’t buying it.

Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo is proposing to fill in the FEC boat slip adjacent to AmericanAirlines Arena and add the green space to Ferré Park. Roberto Koltun

The commissioner, who is also chairman of the Bayfront Park Trust that manages Ferré Park and the slip, chuckled when a reporter cited the cost estimate, then assailed it as a bit of fiction concocted by Suarez and Gonzalez to stifle his idea.

“Oh boy, this is laughable,” Carollo said in an interview Friday, referring to the figure. “I believe this as much as I believe that I can lift my car by myself. This is all run by an administration that has no moral compass.“

Carollo added he had not yet read the report, but said he had little doubt that an analysis conducted by an objective administration would find “those numbers are nowhere near what they’re claiming.”

“This is so ridiculously high, it speaks for itself,” Carollo said, referring to the report.

Carollo, who has complained that the FEC slip mostly serves as a docking space for millionaires’ yachts during Miami Heat games at the adjacent AmericanAirlines Arena, brought up the idea during a commission debate, when another plan he had proposed — to seek bids for a commercial boatyard at the slip — ran into substantial opposition

The critics say the slip is a significant historic piece of the park, harking back 100 years to the creation of the city’s original port, and is the only place where the bay reaches the edge of Biscayne Boulevard. They also complained that it’s the Bayfront Park Trust that has failed to come up with consistent or creative public uses for the refurbished slip.

It’s not the first time someone has proposed filling in the deep-water slip, prompting significant public opposition. In 2011, Miami commissioners — at Carollo’s behest — passed a resolution against any “actions or discussions” by Miami-Dade to fill the slip after county commissioners publicly floated the idea.

Three years later, partners in David Beckham’s effort to bring a major-league soccer team to Miami proposed filling in the slip to build a new stadium on what was then a brand-new Museum Park. That idea was flatly rejected by then-Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado. Part of his rationale in doing so was that the city and other public agencies had spent millions of dollars rebuilding the slip’s bulkheads and installing mooring piers to improve its usability.

Visitors to the long-awaited opening day for Museum Park, since renamed Maurice A. Ferré Park, admire the U.S. Coast Guard tall ship Eagle as it glides into the fully refurbished deepwater slip at the downtown Miami park on Saturday, June 14, 2014. MARSHA HALPER MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Ferré, the former six-term Miami mayor, has also supported filling in the slip — once in 2000 when major league baseball’s Florida (now Miami) Marlins proposed a stadium in the park, then known as Bicentennial Park. Ferré proposed filling in the slip as part of an alternative site for the ballpark that would not fully take over green space. The Marlins eventually built on the site of the Orange Bowl.

Ferré again publicly supported the reclamation when Carollo revived the idea in April, and after Museum Park was renamed for him.

The city commission’s 3-1 vote in April marked the first time the reclamation idea would be formally analyzed. Commission Chair Ken Russell, whose district includes Ferré Park, was the lone “no” vote. Carollo said the filled-in slip could become a “signature piece of land.”

Moffatt & Nichol caution in the text that their two-month analysis is preliminary, and some costs could shift. But they make it clear that filling in the slip would be difficult and complicated, and the cost “extremely high.”

About $200 million of the estimated price tag would go to addressing myriad environmental issues. Among those items would be relocation or recreation elsewhere of a coral community thriving at the bottom of the slip, as well as cleanup of presumed contaminants in the sediment. The report notes the site was once the location of five gas stations, a sewage treatment station that dumped into the bay, coal and pest extermination companies, and operations for the port.

Agencies that have funded slip improvements also told the consultants they would require a full or partial refund from the city, for a potential total of $24 million.

Construction would be potentially burdensome as well. According to the report, filling in the slip would require 350,000 cubic yards of fill, requiring that more than 20,000 dump-truck loads make the trip to the site. There are also questions about the bulkhead flanking the AA Arena, which could be attached to support walls for the facility’s parking garage, the engineers note.

Finally, the engineers say the plan would face “extremely stringent” constraints under current environmental regulations and may run afoul of regulations barring filling in any portion of Biscayne Bay.

It would also draw significant opposition from environmental groups and others, likely drawing expensive and time-consuming litigation, the authors conclude. The Downtown Development Authority, a quasi-autonomous city agency, has already declared its opposition, citing the loss of linear feet of also rare, direct public access to the bayfront, the report says. The DDA is also seeking historic designation for the slip, which would bar its destruction, the report says.

Because the Miami commission doesn’t meet during August, the soonest the board could take up discussion of the report would be at its Sept. 12 meeting. No agenda has been publicly posted yet.