Key Biscayne

Miami commission approves Boat Show deal, asks FDLE to probe police shootings

A view of the Miami Marine Stadium, facing west.
A view of the Miami Marine Stadium, facing west.

The city of Miami will spend up to $16 million over the next year to upgrade the grounds outside historic Miami Marine Stadium and host the Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key in early 2016.

Commissioners voted Thursday to authorize a bond issue to pay for improvements to a 15-acre area outside the waterfront stadium, including seven undeveloped acres to the east of the shuttered venue that will be paved, lined with utilities and covered with artificial turf. Shortly after, they approved a license agreement with the not-for-profit that owns the boat show, which will pay the city $1.1 million per year in rent plus half of net concessions and parking sales from the five-day event.

Commissioners voted unanimously on both the boat show deal and the stadium-grounds upgrades despite criticism from the village of Key Biscayne that the boat show agreement was “rushed.” Commissioner Frank Carollo also said that the deal negotiated with the National Marine Manufacturers Association has no length and could potentially leave the city to finance a $16 million facility without an anchor tenant.

“At this point, I’m willing to take the risk,” Commissioner Francis Suarez said of the financial implications.

Thursday’s vote came just weeks after commissioners and administrators shot down a proposal by preservation group Friends of Miami Marine Stadium to use private money to redevelop the area surrounding the stadium and fund a $30 million renovation of the iconic structure. The group brought the Miami International Boat Show to the table as an anchor tenant whose rent would help fund part of the $121 million project.

But many of the details of the proposal proved problematic and city officials indicated in November that they’d prefer to negotiate directly with the boat show and pay for some or most of the upgrades with public money.

The spending plan and license agreement eventually proffered by the administration doesn’t touch on stadium renovations. But it gives the city the ability to begin improving the stadium grounds in order to host the boat show; organizers have indicated they plan to host the annual February event at Marine Stadium at least through 2017.

What would happen afterward remains unclear.

To present an agreement to the commission this month, administrators sought a license agreement with the boat show rather than a lease agreement, which likely would have required a public referendum. The license deal allows the city to opt out at any time and gives the boat show the ability to renegotiate in five years, but has no hard timetable.

The funding of the improvements is also flexible. While commissioners agreed to issue up to $16 million in bonds if needed, they asked Alfonso to find different ways in which the project could possibly be financed.

Though Carollo worried about the looseness of the boat show deal, Mayor Tomás Regalado stressed that hosting the boat show was important to restoring the stadium. And Cathy Rick-Joule, the manager of the boat show, said the event would prove special to the city, assuming it flows smoothly and stays at Marine Stadium for the long term.

“The marine industry here is so huge this will be an unparalleled event,” she said, adding that the boat show draws 100,000 boating enthusiasts to the Miami area each year. “I think you need to look at this from a higher level. It’s not just an annual rent.”

The boat show has been held at the Miami Beach Convention Center for decades, but scheduled renovations are pushing the massive event out, perhaps permanently. Rick-Joule told the Miami Herald that the future of the boat show depends in part on how the event goes at Marine Stadium.

Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay, whom the city involved in the boat show discussions, told commissioners she was concerned about how quickly the agreement was put together, and the implications it held for traffic on the Rickenbacker Causeway. “I’m very disappointed the direction these negotiations have taken,” she said.

The city says it has about 4,000 parking spaces on Virginia Key, and would expect the boat show to find parking on the mainland, aided by water taxis. Commissioners said that’s one element of many the city will need to watch in order to see whether the site makes sense for a permanent home.

In other news Thursday, commissioners voted in favor of a memorandum of understanding with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to have the state agency take over investigations when the city’s officers shoot a suspect or when a suspect dies in custody.

The city hopes that the agreement, which also included the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, will result in tougher investigations and instill more faith among the community that an investigation will be fair when an officer shoots someone.

“I think it’s positive,” said incoming Chief Rodolfo Llanes, “to move in this direction.”

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