Key Biscayne

Boat show not sweating after Key Biscayne files new lawsuit

MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Tensions between the Village of Key Biscayne and the city of Miami over plans to host the Miami International Boat Show next year at historic Marine Stadium ratcheted up last week when the village filed suit against the boat show alleging criminal violations of Florida’s open government laws.

The suit — filed as the city of Miami is rushing to create an expensive outdoor park and event space to host the massive boating event — seeks to void a contract between the city and the National Marine Manufacturers Association. It also comes as city and village officials are in mediation, ostensibly trying to avoid litigating a lawsuit previously filed by the Key Biscayne council to block the $18-million park project.

If talks fall apart, they’ll head to court, raising the potential that the project won’t be completed on time — if at all.

For their part, the NMMA doesn’t seem concerned.

“We are moving forward with planning the boat show and are confident it will be held at Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin in 2016 and beyond,” NMMA president Thomas Dammrich said in a statement.

But even as Miami officials say they’re confident they’ll be able to work out their differences with neighboring Key Biscayne, village officials say they believe the city and boat show are hiding information and acting in bad faith. Mayor Mayra Lindsay said the village is prepared to pursue both lawsuits, even if it means killing the boat show.

“I’m committed to seeing this litigation through and acting accordingly for as long as needed,’’ she said.

Key Biscayne first filed suit against the city of Miami in February, seeking an injunction to stop construction on the “flex park” space where the boat show will set up its main event. Village officials believe the boat show — planned along the only road into the island — will cause the kind of traffic chaos that forces emergency rescue patients to be helicoptered off the island.

That lawsuit has been stayed in order for the city and village to come to terms without ending up in court.

But on April 22, Key Biscayne filed its new lawsuit, sending signals that a resolution by mediation is unlikely.

The new complaint alleges that the National Marine Manufacturers Association illegally negotiated its contract in private, because the association was acting as an agent of the city and should have held open meetings. The suit also states that the association denied the village’s request for public records pertaining to land use, funding, profit-sharing and correspondence between the boat show parent and the city of Miami.

Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso said in an interview earlier this month that the design and construction of the $18-million flex park will likely run all the way up until the end of November, when the boat show is scheduled to begin the 100-day process of setting up shop. Any delay in that process, Alfonso said, would be a complication.

“Clearly there’s a time crunch. We’re now moving forward with construction of this space. If the courts were to stop us, that would be a problem,” he said.

That would be bad news for the boat show, which has already stated that it is incurring an additional $6 million in costs in moving from its long-time home at the Miami Beach Convention Center to Virginia Key. The event is one of South Florida’s largest trade shows and tourist draws, boasting 100,000 visitors over President’s Day weekend each year and a $600 million economic impact.

Lindsay says the city should consider moving the boat show to Marlins Stadium. But Miami officials are moving forward with the project on Virginia Key.

To build the space, the city needs to remove the old parking lot that remains on site before building the park and installing utility upgrades. Some $1.6 million of the electrical work is being paid for by National Marine Manufacturers Association in order to run power to its grid of temporary piers in the basin.

Alice Bravo, Miami's deputy manager and the city's point person on the redesign of the stadium property, said the litigation filed over the city's plans shouldn't create any worries about the death of the boat show.

“That area right now is paved. We have a huge parking lot," she said. “The boat show could happen there tomorrow.”

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