News: Island Gardens Gets Approval and Financing

Almost 9 years ago to the month, on July 8, 2004, the Miami-Dade City Commission approved a huge retail and hotel construction project on Watson Island called Island Gardens. The $400+ million waterfront project was developed as a public-private partnership between the City and Flagstone Properties. The mixed-use development was to combine two luxury hotels, Shangri-La and Westin Hotels, (with a combined total of 500 rooms), 152,000 square feet of retail, 61,000 square of dining, with entertainment, cultural facilities and civic art in an intimate village setting facing a 50-slip mega yacht marina in Biscayne Bay.

A 100-foot set back along the water’s edge was to be maintained as a public promenade to ensure that the dramatic views of downtown Miami, the Port of Miami, and Biscayne Bay were preserved. Throughout the property, landscaping, performance venues, and art installations were to add intrigue and excitement for visitors. An added attraction of the project was to be the mega yachts themselves – majestic-floating castles. Upon its completion, Island Gardens was supposed to become a unique destination, unsurpassed in all of South Florida.

But plans for Island Gardens stalled over the years, with the developer citing financing woes, the 9/11 attacks hurting financing plans for the project, and the recession which hurt the company’s chances of finding money to support the plan. The city commission over the years threatened several times to pull the plug altogether. With the exception of Island Jungle Gardens on the north end of the island and the Children’s Museum on the south side, the island has been almost barren for years.

Flagstone been paying rent on the vacant land since 2004. Bayraktar fell behind on rent on more than one occasion, receiving threats from city leaders to end the luxury Miami project. Through it all, Flagstone managed to retain the lease. Throughout the years, the annual rate has changed, but it currently stands at $750,000 and will increase to $1 million annually when construction begins.

With rumors circulating for months that a big developer was set to join Flagstone properties with much needed financing, last week, the project got a huge boost with Jorge Perez and Stephen Ross of the Related Group signing on as co-developers. City commissioners stepped in and approved a lease extension that allows additional time for Flagstone, which is led by Mehmet Bayraktar and his new partners to start construction.

“This is a crowning achievement for me,” Perez said.

Related is planning dramatic changes to the 12-year-old Miami real estate redevelopment plans such as increasing the amount of retail space from 220,000 to 500,000 square feet, adding an extra 100 hotel beds and adding 100,000 square feet of new convention center space. Most members of the Miami City Commission are on board with the new vision.

Perez’s vision for the luxury waterfront shops is of a tourist destination that also serves the residents of downtown Miami. He expects it to turn out to be somewhere between Bal Harbor and the Dadeland Mall in terms of luxury shopping, and include the convention center space, two high-end hotels and park space.

The developers will be ready to break ground on the marina and the retail area by June of next year. Construction on the Miami luxury real estate project would likely be completed by 2017.

“It’s really the most complicated job I have ever been involved in,” Perez said. “I will put 1,000 percent of my effort to make it a reality.”

Key aspects of the New Flagstone timeline:

• Oct. 1: Flagstone’s current monthly payment of $62,500 will increase to $1 million a year as it is schedule to start construction.

• Sept. 1, 2016: Flagstone must commence construction of the retail and parking component of its project.

• Sept. 1, 2018 Flagstone must commence construction of both hotels.

• Aug. 31, 2019: Retail and parking are scheduled to be finished.

Beach Leaders Concerned About Island Gardens Go Ahead

Now that the Related Group has breathed new life into Island Gardens and it looks like it is a go, the City of Miami beach is concerned how such a huge construction project will affect Miami Beach.

Watson Island is at the gateway to Miami Beach and any big construction project could cause traffic blockage to the Beach.

The resurgence of Island Gardens has Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales concerned. Last Friday he attended the meeting of the Miami Downtown Development Authority to discuss the plans for the project.

The way the new Related improvement plans are reading the original square footage of the project is going to grow, with more retail and bigger hotels. This translates into more traffic that would ultimately clog the MacArthur Causeway.

According to the Miami Herald, current downtown retailers are raising concerns about the proposed increased retail that Related is proposing for Island Gardens. They are worried that it would affect business downtown and along Biscayne Blvd.

Miapolis on Watson Island

In between the approval of Island Gardens, Miami based architectural and interior design firm Kobi Karp Architecture & Interior Design, Inc. was hired to develop Miapolis, billed as the tallest building in the world. The centerpiece tower was a total height of 3,200 ft (980m). Developer Guillermo Socarras, who proposed the Miapolis development, seemed to get approval from the City of miami, bit it was contingent on his being able to get the Federal Aviation Administration to approve the project’s height and hopefully create a no-fly zone over South Beach and the Port of Miami. The proposed 22 billion-dollar self-sufficient development would include an amusement park, a trade center, an observatory, rotating sky-lounge, a shopping mall, restaurants, condominiums, office space, a hotel and a marina, to be built on a 28-acre (11 ha) site. The proposal plans call for 1,000 housing units and up to 46,000 construction jobs over the construction period and to bring 35,000 permanent jobs to Miami. Socarras told the SunPost he was negotiating with the Federal Aviation Administration and would grant a full interview if passed. He was never heard from and the project died amid great speculation from the Blog Roll.


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