We’ve organized the legal, news and other material related to the Watson Island Flagstone project into short, introductory bursts. Many of these 'bursts' link to additional detail and/or our “Documents” section for those who wish to explore specific issues more fully.
The challenges facing those fighting to protect the quality of life, health and safety of citizens and visitors as well as the local businesses, the tourist industry and the economy of Miami-Dade County are daunting. Clicking on any of the following topics will provide you with more detail:
Overview of The Watson Island debacle
For 14 years the City of Miami has taken every opportunity to enable a private developer to build a major commercial project, with a massive public subsidy, on public land on Watson Island. This parcel is one of the last great public waterfront open spaces in the urban core. State laws, the City's Charter and laws have been broken in granting this favoritism. The project must be stopped before its traffic and overdevelopment strangles our economy and lifestyle. And the illegal, secretive behavior of the City of Miami and its officials must be exposed and challenged.
The Flagstone Island Gardens Project for Watson Island, first approved in 2001-2004, has been rescued over and over by Miami City officials over and over despite the developer's repeated failures to obtain financing, the successive delinquencies in payments, numerous favorable amendments, and failure to meet commencement-of-construction deadlines.
In 2001, to improve the City of Miami's dire fiscal crisis, the City requested proposals (RFP) to utilize public land on Watson Island. Flagstone’s proposal included a mega-yacht marina for 50 super-sized vessels; two hotels of 12 and 22 stories, 137,000 square feet of retail space and 14 restaurants totaling 84,000 square feet; and a maritime museum. Voters approved the proposal in a referendum in November 2001 which stipulated annual minimum rent of $2 million.
In 2004, the City’s formally approved expansion of the project to include two towers measuring 33 and 52 stories in height and 225,000 square feet of retail space.
In the decade since that initial approval and despite Flagstone’s inability to obtain financing, the City has excused the delinquencies in paying pre-construction rents, granted rent reductions, modified the project in other material ways, and extended the time for Flagstone to commence and complete construction. In 2010, the City voted to allow the project to proceed "in phases," instead of all at once as stated in the referendum. The City did not require any new appraisals, traffic studies, or other impact studies when it modified the Flagstone project in 2010. No new referendum was sought, and no new RFP was issued.
The financial community has spoken volumes by withholding financing for the project even to this day. In 2013, the Jorge Perez' Related Group proposed to "save" the project by doubling the square footage of the retail component from 225,000 to 525,000 square feet, and adding 100 hotel rooms and 100,000 square feet of convention center space. It required a lawsuit against the City to uncover records showing the how the City skirted laws requiring current traffic studies, rent appraisals, environmental, public safety, and other impacts. After an outpouring of public opposition, Perez withdrew in August 2013.
On May 8, 2014, the City Commission again voted to proceed. Local residents and environmental groups raised red flags about the City's charging only $2 million in rent based on 2002 appraisals when 2013 and 2014 appraisals showed the 2014 fair market value was over $7 million, failing to conduct any traffic studies after 2004 despite the massive growth in the last decade which is alerting causing gridlock on MacArthur Causeway, as well as the new PortMiami Tunnel. To add insult to injury the City failed to take into account environmental impacts, notably the risks of catastrophic damage from sea level rise for which taxpayers would have to pay.
Several commissioners expressed concerns about repeated delays and excuses and indicated they would not approve extensions for construction beyond the June 2, 2014 deadline. Two Commissioners voting for the project at the time stated they relied on what we now know to be misleading comments by the Assistant City Attorney. She stated that if the Commission did not give final approval, the City would stand in breach of its "duty of good faith" and be vulnerable to a lawsuit for breach of contract by Flagstone, the developer, and be at risk of having to pay $58 million in damages for the developer's "documented" expenses.
Because Watson Island was deeded to the City by the State of Florida, the project required further approval by the Governor and Cabinet. Public records show that for over two years, the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation (DEP) had opposed the project because of the lack of current appraisals, because of "the lack of progress on this project over the past eight years," and because of prior defaults in rent owed the State. However, as the Miami Herald documented, Flagstone’s hired gun with close ties to Governor Rick Scott got him to overrule the Department.
Even with these green lights, Flagstone did not obtain the necessary permits and commence the "actual act of physical construction" by the agreed well-documented and often cited deadline of June 2.
Given the repeated violations of law by the City, several local residents filed a civil action against the City. Each of the claims and further actions by the residents are described in various sections of this website. Each is disgraceful in its own right. Together they paint a picture of persistent, calculated wrong-doing by the City.
The Watson Island story is far from over. The public can – and must – win this battle.
We welcome your comments.