What continues to amaze me 7 years into writing about these kinds of deals is that the Christoph/Suntex Group are not stupid guys. They have money. They have expensive lawyers. They sit around and strategize their moves, and yet, they believed - or perhaps they were led to believe - that they could get away with something so transparantly misleading.
Equally, if not more importantly is what does this say about Daniel Rotenberg and his staff that none of them caught this before the proposals were given to the members of the Selection Committee, and then what does it say about the diligence of the hand picked members of the Selection Committee that not a single one of them had the presence of mind, or perhaps the courage, to either spot this or speak up and say, "Hey, I think there's a serious problem here."
More alarming is that the proposal submitted by the Christoph/Suntex Group didn't include just this one example of them not following the guidelines, they also engaged in a couple other pretty significant efforts at cooking the numbers so as to mislead the members of the Selection Committee into believing that they were submitting the most qualified and financially advantageous proposal.
Below is the Bid Protest Motion submitted by the Biscayne Marine Group . It's a public document, and for those who have the time, it's well worth a read because even if you remove the possibility that the Christoph/Suntex Group did nothing more than pay good money for a very sloppy proposal, and that this time out Daniel Rotenberg didn't have his thumb on the scale, and that all of the members of the Selection Committee were just lazy and that none of them were in any way influenced by hints and winks as to who the Mayor wanted to come out on top, who in the hell would entrust giving anybody who puts together a proposal so riddled with obvious misrepresentations a valuable piece of Miami's waterfront property to manage for the next 75 years?
It's Miami, Bitches!
Last month, the Regalado administration attempted to give away a portion of the parking lot between Monty's Seafood restaurant and the old Coast Guard Hanger in Coconut Grove to the Make a Wish Foundation, so that they could build a new headquarters building on the waterfront.
It was a flagrant and unmistakeable effort to abuse the process for how the city is required to deal with unsolicited proposals, and revealed through a series of emails that I obtained in researching my story the thumbprint of Daniel Rotenberg, the Director of the city's Department of Real Estate and Asset Management (DREAM), on the scale trying to stage manage this deal gong forward.
It was only a decision by an administrator in the US Department of Interior, the federal agency that had placed a covenant on the limited uses of the property when they gave it to the city that thwarted this deal from going forward.
Last month also saw the knockdown fight between the City Commission and the City administration over the failure of the Flagstone Group, after almost 16 years, to develop the Watson Island property.
Like the Make A Wish deal, DREAM was at the center of this fight because while Commissioners Russell and Suarez were citing language in the various agreements and contracts between Flagstone and the City to support their argument that Flagstone was in default, DREAM's Assistant Director, Aldo Bustamante, was quoted as saying that he disagreed with those opinions, and that Flagstone was NOT in default.
This collision of opinions led first to the Commissioners voting that Flagstone was indeed in default, and then last week to the fight between Commissioner Russell and City Attorney Mendez over her need to hire two sets of outside attorneys to respond to the lawsuit that the Flagstone Group filed when they were served with the letter of default.
Two deals like this in one month are two deals too many.
But, this is Miami, and if two questionable deals involving city waterfront property can bubble their way to the top of the cesspool that passes for municipal government in Miami, then why not go for three.
With only 6 months to go before the door will hit him in the ass, Miami's Mayor, Tomas Regalado is determined to do everything he can to make sure that his high-roller friends get as much of what is left of the city's waterfront as possible, and having failed to deliver on the Make A Wish desire to have their own piece of Miami's waterfront, and the conflagration over the Flagstone deal, the opportunity to give the Rickenbacker Marina to the Christophs was in some ways Regalado's last Hurrah.
DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN
Last year I wrote 11 stories about the Regalado administration's first effort to give away the Rickenbacker Marina property to Robert Sr, and Robert Jr. Christoph, through a questionable RFP process.
In those stories, I revealed how Daniel Rotenburg had, prior to being hired by the city been a business partner with developer James Tate, who in turn was a business partner with Bob Christoph Jr, and the belief that this relationship was central to Rotenberg being on the Christophs side in this deal. He still remains listed on the website.)
In addition to Rotenberg, the effort to make sure the Christophs came out on top was supported by Steven Kneapler, a longtime crony and inside fixer for Regalado, who had operated the restaurant at Monty's Seafood when Bob Christoph Jr.held the lease on the Monty's property, and was seen as Regalado's puppet working behind the scenes and pulling the strings in an effort to make sure that the deal went through.
By the time the fight reached the City Commission it had turned into a battle royal that proved embarrassing to everyone, and eventually the Commissioners voted to reject all of the bids and instructed the City Manager to explore the possibility of the City taking over the management of the Marina.
No one ever expected that that was going to happen, and so, once again with only months left before Regalado leaves office, a new RFP for the redevelopment of the marina property was issued by Rotenberg's department.
Among the new wrinkles this time out, Suntex, the company that had come in 2nd in the scoring by the Selection Committee last time, and who had been behind the campaign to tar and feather the Christophs for their involvement in the massive sewage spill at their Miami Beach Marina that should have been grounds for their being disqualified, kissed and made up with the Christophs and this time showed up as their partner.
There were a number of questionable decisions leading up to the issuance of the RFP that could have prompted me to write in-depth stories, but I figured that having detailed so many examples of sleazy and underhanded behavior the first time around, I would wait until the RFP took its predictable course by having the hand picked Selection Committee award the Christoph'/Suntex Group with the highest score before wading in, because there was never any doubt in my mind that as badly as Regalado wanted this deal to do through, that Rotenberg and his posse, including that hand chosen Selection Committee would show through their incompetence and their bias that the Christophs/Suntex Group's proposal was wothy of coming in first.
HOW THE DEAL WAS COOKED THIS TIME
The one thing that separates Miami from a lot of other corrupt cities is that the politicians in Miami have been corrupt for so long that they've managed to bake the corruption into the very fabric of governance in ways that both overwhelms and sometimes baffles those trying to figure out how they do it.
How, for instance do you go about picking 7 people to sit on a Selection Committee that will chose the politically favored candidate in spite of being provided with proposals revealing that the favored candidate had, in the words of the attorney representing Biscayne Marine Partners, the company that came in 2nd in the selection process, and that has now filed a bid protest that, "Simply put, Virginia Key proposed a project that cannot be built within the defined boundaries of the "Property" as described in the RFP."
Obviously, no one on the Selection Committee spent any time reading the proposals, because if they had, they would have discovered that the Christophs/Suntex Group's proposal was based in part on the use of the county property they were told they could not use - thereby allowing them to inflate the amount of revenue they would generate, which in turn would increase the amount of the rent payments that they claimed would be made to the city. They also seem to have underestimated their soft costs by almost $30 million dollars, which in the words of the bid protest, provided an "undeniable and material competitive advantage over the other proposers."
There are numerous ways to influence the selection process.
One way is to put your thumb on the scale and picking members for the Selection Committee lacking first hand experience in managing a marina. A second way to do it is to make sure you fail to provide these uninformed Selection Committee members with adequate instructions on how to review the information provided by the bidders.
Last year Rotenberg's department created subcommittees to review the design and financial responsiveness of the proposals, and then when the proposals were submitted, the bidders were allowed to look at each other's proposals before they appeared before the selection Committee.
This year, subcommittees were not created to review the proposals, and the bidders were prohibited from looking at the other proposals until after they had made their presentations.
Had any of this occurred, the odds are pretty strong that someone from the Biscayne Marine Partners would have discovered that the Christoph/Suntex Group submitted a noncompliant proposal, and made it a point to notify the members of the Selection Committee.
THE COUNTY TAKES IT'S PROPERTY BACK
On May 5th, two and a half months after the issuance of the RFP, the Miami City Manager wrote the City Commission notifying them that the County was reclaiming a piece of land that ran parallel to the east side of the Rickenbacker Marina property to use that land for the expansion of a bicycle and pedestrian pathway.
Also on May 5th the City issued Addendum Number 5 to the RFP which stated that the bidders "will no longer have the option to incorporate parking on the County land."
To make sure that everyone got the message, the Addendum went on to state that the bidders "shall be required to provide for parking within the footprint of the leasehold property, which specifically excludes the property previously conveyed by the County."
In order to comply with this change, Biscayne Marine Partners reconfigured their design plans which had included that portion of land as part of their parking garage/dry storage.
The Christoph/Suntex Group had also originally included that piece of property in the design of their garage/dry storage, but after receiving Addendum 5 they chose NOT to redesign their plan, even though they had clearly been warned by the city that they could not use that property.
Here are the renderings from both proposals that show how each proposer responded to the county's decision to take back their land.
The firt set of renderings are from the Biscayne Marine Partners - which is headed by Aabad Melwani, whose family has had the lease to the property for many years and was responsible for the actual development of the site as a full scale marina.
The second set of renderings is from the Christoph/Suntex Group, which operates the Miami Beach Marina and which also operated Monty's Seafood Restaurant and Marina.
The third rendering shows the portion of the Christoph/Suntex Group parking/dry storage that trespasses on the county's property.