City failed Boat Show, Virginia Key

Miami City commissioners on Thursday are scheduled to consider an ordinance to create a badly-needed advisory board to chart the future “mission, vision, business plan, governance and operation of Virginia Key,” one of the few undeveloped jewels of the barrier island along the Rickenbacker Causeway, the only road to Key Biscayne.

The measure to create the Virginia Key Steering Committee, smartly proposed by Commissioner Francis Suarez, is overdue and should be approved.

It’s a good idea, although it creates yet one more committee. This one, with a membership dedicated to preserving the key’s environment through gentle development, could help the city shape one of our most unique stretches of land and its famed, but decrepit, Miami Marine Stadium site.

Too bad this proposed steering committee made up of stakeholders — from businesspeople to environmentalists — wasn’t on the job when the city granted the National Marine Manufacturers Association a license agreement to host its annual boatnanza, the Miami International Boat Show, on land and water surrounding the shuttered stadium.

The move to a new, if temporary, home for the boat show might have gone smoother for everyone involved and affected if a board had been on the ground and focused of what was best for residents, businesses and the environment. Instead, we started out with the careless destruction of mangroves by workers and the city, environmentalists, and Key Biscayne residents have been mired in lawsuits and accusations. On Tuesday, the Miami-Dade Commission will consider granting final permits to the show.

Don’t get us wrong. The boat show is a long-standing and valued event which in February will celebrate its 75th year. The massive show brings $595 million in economic impact. Nothing to snub.

A large amount of blame falls on the city. In its haste to take the prestigious show away from Miami Beach — a coup made possible by the renovation of its traditional home, the Miami Beach Convention Center — it has not acted as a responsible steward of this invaluable waterfront property that belongs to the residents of Miami.

The city has given the boat show a pass, most notably granting the lease on this prime bayfront property without voter approval, pitching the event as “temporary” with no structure, even though the boat show wants to stay. That has deeply angered opponents, leaving them with this lasting impression: the city tried to pull a fast one.

Commissioner Suarez told the Editorial Board the criticism that the city has not acted in the Virginia Key’s best interest is fair. “But the city views the boat show as a temporary event. If there’s traffic chaos, their license can be terminated,” he said.

For the boat show, deep pilings for the construction of hundreds of docks have been allowed in an environmentally sensitive area. For the boat show, the city is spending more than $20 million to turn the land around the stadium into a flex park, which the boat show can use. For the boat show, elements of the 2010 Master Plan for the island have gone by the wayside.

If a steering committee had already been in place, these concerns would have been addressed and a solution could have been found that would have made everyone happy. But the city, not the boat show, fell down on the job. Given the slipshod stewardship the city has displayed, the commission should definitely approve the advisory board so that there’s a dedicated watchdog going forward.