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So Long, Scotty’s PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jack King - BT Contributor   
June 2012

One thing about Miami’s record of waterfront development: It’s consistent -- consistently awful

JackKingI’m spending a wonderful long weekend in St. Petersburg, riding bikes and taking in the great museums and galleries -- and enjoying the beautiful downtown area with its great bike and walking paths and an unobstructed view of the waterfront.

Sadly, all this is not enough to cure my depressive state about the City of Miami’s insane actions relating to development of the Coconut Grove waterfront. The city sent out a Request for Proposals (RFP) to redevelop the waterfront area where Grove Key Marina and Scotty’s Landing restaurant are located. What it got back was not pretty.

Like all the developments the city has tried to undertake, it’s all about the money. The highest bidder gets the deal, regardless of whether the development is good for the residents of Miami. That’s pretty much why we have wall-to-wall condos on our waterfront. It’s visual blight of a tall order -- you can’t see anything.

City Manager Johnny Martinez and his minions started this most recent mess by pushing the vision they had for the waterfront with no input from residents and other designers. They didn’t even bother to note that there is a current Coconut Grove Waterfront Master Plan in effect. They brushed that aside, saying it was only a concept and not a real plan.

Next Martinez selected a bid-review committee that included two City of Miami employees, a Miami Beach employee, an architect, and a person who I thought to be a restaurant specialist and who is employed by a company called Restaurant Services, Inc. Turns out that company is the food services delivery wing of Burger King.

So it turns out that there is not a single person on the review committee who has any knowledge of waterfront development, restaurant operation, or marina operation. That’s pretty amazing when you consider that this is an RFP for a waterfront marina and restaurant. Hey, maybe Burger King could be the signature restaurant on the water!

The whole bidding process turned out to be another one the city’s famous clown shows. Some bids were not received within the time limit. The presentations from the bidders were held in secret with no residents or media allowed. Before the presentation, a city minion began handing out the bid documents to the media and then quickly snatched them back.

I guess the somewhat good news is that the committee’s deliberations over which bidder to recommend was done in public and with the media. However, since they hadn’t seen the bid documents, reporters and concerned citizens had no idea what committee members were talking about. So much for government in the sunshine.

In the end, the committee did favor the highest bidder. Now it goes to the city manager, who will decide whether to forward it to city commission for a vote. And still no one in the public or the media has even seen the actual bid documents.

Possibly the saving grace to all this is that the public gets to vote up or down on the project in November. This little bump in the road is a result of the “Carollo Amendment,” after former commissioner and mayor Joe Carollo. It requires a citywide referendum any time waterfront property owned by the city is proposed for development. I’ve never been a big fan of Carollo, but in this case I will say thanks.

Now, you might say we should give city officials time to work through the whole process, but I’d point out that the city doesn’t have a particularly good record regarding waterfront development. Let me give you three examples:

• There have been five waterfront master plans since 1985 and not a single one has been implemented.

• The Flagstone marina/hotel project on the west side of Watson Island was signed, sealed, and delivered nearly ten years ago. Since then, not one shovel of dirt has moved.

• The Jungle Island complex has been built, but it was with federal community-block-grant funds that were meant for revitalizing poor neighborhoods. The place is pretty much a financial disaster. Still the city keeps putting money into it. The owners are in hock for millions to the city and private creditors. Their solution to the problem? They want the city to give them more Watson Island land and a 50-year lease extension so they can get new financing.

Can the City of Miami ever straighten itself out? Not hardly. For more than 30 years I’ve been tracking one bad city deal after another. The faces change but the misdeeds stay the same.

In the 1950s, the commission was so bad that Florida’s governor removed all five of them. While philosophically I think it might be the right thing to do now, I’m not sure it would work. Can you imagine a governor like Rick Scott arguing that some Miami politicians are worse than he is? It’s a tossup at best.

 

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