$131,000,000. One hundred thirty-one million dollars!

That’s the amount of money Miami city officials have cost taxpayers in lost rent, fees and taxes by allowing more than a decade of delay, ignoring the requirement that the private developer pay fair market rent while turning a blind eye on other illegal activity.

And all to advance a mega-development that would increase traffic, pose great risks to health, safety and quality of life for Miami Beach and Miami residents while threating the entire economy of Miami-Dade County. [Click here to see threats posed by this mammoth project.]

Approved in 2001, since 2005 the developer has been excused from doing what he promised the voters, and been given relief of millions and millions of dollars in payments to the city-- nothing short of a travesty involving the most valuable piece of public waterfront property in Miami.

And it’s not just taxpayer funds that have vanished. Everyone should be equally angry over the other hardships that this proposed development will create.

Subsidy on Rent.   The 2010 agreement, without returning the issue to the voters, allows Flagstone to pay rent now and into the future based on appraisals conducted in the year 2002.  But it’s now 2017 and the land has increased in value by 400% or more in the official appraisals ordered by the City.  On this basis the rent charged the developer should be $7 million + annually.  Instead the Commissioners set it at $2 million.

So much for heeding the public’s opposition to subsidies for billionaires.

Subsidy for Environmental Risks.   Although the proposed project locks the City in for 75 years, the environmental risks have been completely ignored.

The technology and engineering of sea rise and sea surge has developed dramatically in the last decade. Despite multiple public records request, we have not seen any evidence that the risk to City-owned Watson Island and public and private property along Biscayne Boulevard has been addressed in the frequently changed construction design. And what has been done to account for the expansion of the project on the capacity of the Virginia Key Wastewater plant and the Biscayne By underwater sewer pipes?  Is there sufficient insurance to protect the taxpayers from these risks?  There’s no evidence of this, and so the taxpayers –not the developer will be left holding the bag.

Subsidy for Failure.   The City continues to ignore its failure to launch this project on the scale proposed for the past decade.  Perhaps the financial markets have spoken, as they have offered no significant financing despite all the changes and extensions that the Commissioners have granted. 

Assuming the project is built and then fails, what do taxpayers get?  Two large structures, 535 feet and 375 feet high in the middle of an island in Biscayne Bay.  Again, the taxpayers would be stuck.  This time with the need to re-sell the facilities with an even more generous deal or demolish them at yet another cost.

Subsidy for Traffic Gridlock.   There has been no adequate evaluation of the impact of the Flagstone project by the City of Miami.  (See Traffic elsewhere on this site.) The threats to our tourist economy, our local commutes and our all-important convention and meeting economy is clear.  Art Basel has sounded the alarm as have others.  Why in the world is the City government putting our entire local economy at risk to benefit a private developer?

Watson Island is a Subsidy Itself.  The entire rationale (money for a City in financial straits) for the original RFP no long applies.  Unlike the City’s desperation in 2001, the real estate market has improved the City’s fiscal situation.  An 80% increase in population, 22,000 new condominiums, 3 million square feet of new office space, 6,800 hotel rooms, and 200 new restaurants and retail shops!

All of this raises the key question:

Why should the taxpayers continue to subsidize a private developer to do more of the same on the public land of Watson Island?

It’s way past time for the Miami Commissioners and the Mayor to call a halt to the City’s wrongdoing and the developer’s failures. Way past time for our elected officials to get involved on behalf of residents not private developers.

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