The Watson Island resort and marina project has been bedeviling everyone, and by everyone I mean residents from the City of Miami and Miami Beach, members of the Miami City Commission, the Miami Beach City Commission, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the Florida court system, including Circuit and Appellate courts, and the members of Florida's cabinet which include the Governor, Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer, and Commissioner of Agriculture, for a long time now.
This whole thing started back in 2001, when according to the group Coalition Against Causeway Chaos, the City of Miami in an attempt to improve a fiscal crisis "requested proposals (RFP) from private developers for plans to utilize public land for public purposes on Watson Island and generate additional revenues. Flagstone’s Island Gardens was selected to build a mega-yacht marina; two hotel towers of 12 and 22 stories, with 575 rooms (including 100 timeshare units), 137,000 square feet of retail space and 14 restaurants totaling 84,000 square feet; and other minor facilities for which the City would receive a minimum annual base rent of $2 million."
That effort, which was approved by the taxpayers, began a 16 year series of broken promises and commitments, massive changes in the scope and scale of the planned resort, a failure to acquire the required financing needed to begin construction which in turn resulted in defaults on the payments that the city was supposed to receive, and a laundry list of other problems that can better be appreciated by reading this history on the Coalition's website, HERE.
In addition to all of these issues, in the last month I did a 3 Part series on the construction of a temporary restaurant and bar on the property that, as I revealed had operated for almost a full year using a vacant land use permit in complete disregard of most of the requirements of the permit, and the requirements of code that anyone could imagine. (The series is HERE, HERE and HERE.)
Every item highlighted in RED in the document below represented a violation of code discovered by the city's inspectors when they finally showed up 9 months after the official opening, after an anonymous letter was sent tipping off the City Commissioners of what was going on.
Just because this restaurant/bar was operating illegally did not deter the Mayor of Miami from showing up with a bib in his pocket to pose with Chef Alfredo Alvarez, because when it comes to promoting businesses that operate outside the law in Miami - especially restaurants - Regalado has never shied away from showing up if there's an opportunity for a free meal.
But far worse than a freeloading Mayor willing to ignore businesses operating illegally in his city when it suits him, the real scandal has been the way that the city's Planning and Zoning Director Francisco Garcia has repeatedly signed off on changes to the Master Use Site Plan (MUSP), through the issuance of warrants, that he claimed were insignificant changes, when in fact they were not only significant, but in one instance an email was discovered by the Coalition group that revealed the kind of backroom manipulation that was going on between Garcia's Planning Department and the Flagstone Group, where Flagstone had been advised to remove a significant portion of a modification from the plans submitted for a warrant, so that it could be considered as a minor modification, with the understanding that after the modification had been approved they could then "go back with revision submittal to add the skylights."
This is the kind of scummy and unprincipled behavior that underscores the belief by many that Francisco Garcia has long been in the pocket of developers who have benefited from opinions that he has rendered giving them card blanche to get away with changes to their projects that have resulted in the city loosing millions in fees and changes to plans that were hidden from the public at large through the use of warrants.
Of course, all of this occurred because the members of the City Commission - who were ready and eager to take campaign donations and other monies from these developers - refused to exercise their oversight responsibilities, including then commissioner Marc "Pay For Play" Sarnoff, and now Francis Suarez, whose PAC has collected almost $2 million from almost every developer, land use lawyer and lobbyist who has appeared before the Miami City Commission in the last 10 years, and who I tagged last week doing a favor for Julio Del Rey, a month after receiving a $10,000 "donation" to his political PAC.
What has all of this cost the residents and taxpayers of Miami. Here is an itemized list of what the Coalition believes those costs to be.
On March 30th, the Coalition sent a letter to the members of the Miami City Commission asking that they hold a public hearing in response to the latest effort by Planning Director Francisco Garcia to grant the Flagstone Group another warrant modifying the MUSP, which again, the Coalition contends exceeds the limits of what a warrant would allow.
Here is a copy of that letter:
It would seem that not only has the Flagstone Group worked hard to evade or ignore as many of the requirements of the agreement with the City of Miami over the years, but that both the administration's of Manny Diaz and Tomas Regalado, along with the members of the City Commission have gone along with these efforts by turning their back on exercising their oversight responsibility.
In other words, It's Miami, Bitches!