Watson Island forum to discuss Flagstone project

Panelists include Maurice Ferre, Michael Grieco, Stephen Herbits, Michael Bay

Feb.February 03, 2015 10:30 AM

A future hotel and mega-yacht project planned for Watson Island and its effects on traffic will be discussed during an Urban Environment League of Greater Miami forum at the Miami Center for Architecture and Design on Wednesday.

The panelists will include former Miami mayor Maurice Ferre, Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco, retired Seagram’s executive Stephen Herbits and lobbyist Brian May. The debate, titled “Waterfront Gridlock,” will be moderated by Paul Schwiep, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Citizens Independent Transportation Trust.

Herbits and May are on opposing sides of the Flagstone Island Gardens development, a $600 million project led by Turkish businessman Mehmet Bayraktar and Greenwich Capital. The project would be built on 24 acres of land leased from the City of Miami for $2 million annually for the next 45 years. The current proposal includes two hotel towers standing at 375 and 535 feet in height, 50 mega-yacht boat slips that are 400 feet deep, and 220,000 square feet of retail. It’ll also be right next to MacArthur Causeway, which connects booming downtown Miami to ritzy South Beach.

Herbits, president of the Coalition Against Causeway Chaos, believes Flagstone will generate so much additional traffic that it will be impossible to drive between Miami and Miami Beach. “They [Flagstone’s developers] have the potential of killing tourism,” said Herbits, a Venetian Island resident who has filed lawsuits against the Flagstone project since 2003.

Herbits said the City of Miami Beach is so worried about the impact of the Flagstone project that it invested $200,000 in its own traffic study. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has hinted that Miami Beach is willing to sue the City of Miami to stop Flagstone.

May countered that work has already begun on the Flagstone project. “They’re dredging the bay bottom for the marina, they are just about finished rebuilding the seawall and they’re moving along at full steam,” he said.

As for the traffic concerns, May said Flagstone is just one project of several that are currently being built on both sides of MacArthur Causeway.

“I just don’t know what planet these people are living on,” May said. “Honestly, they have all these projects that are in close proximity, like Miami Worldcenter. They [Miami Beach] have their own convention center that they’re expanding.”

Watson Island won’t be the only project discussed at the forum. Greg Bush, vice president of the Urban Environment League, said the effects of waterfront development on traffic in general will be a main talking point. Key Biscayne’s pending lawsuit against the City of Miami over its proposed redevelopment of the old Miami Marine Stadium and its possible effects on the village’s streets will also be debated.

Bush’s attempts to have a current Miami official speak at the forum have so far been rebuffed.

“We had [Miami Commissioner] Marc Sarnoff agree to participate in the forum but he backed out last Thursday,” Bush said. “I gather it’s because of possible litigation from Miami Beach over this issue.” Bush said Commissioner Francis Suarez did not return his phone calls.

Miami is already being sued by Herbits, who contends that the city should have rebid the project to other developers after Bayraktar missed his rent payments and proposed to develop Flagstone in phases instead of all at once as the developer originally proposed.

May, though, isn’t too worried, claiming that Herbits’ lawsuits against Flagstone have been dismissed by judges as many as three times.

“This project was approved in 2001 by 68 percent of the voters in the City of Miami,” May said. “The decision of what to do with that property was made 14 years ago.”

The Miami Center for Architecture and Design is located at 100 Northeast First Avenue. Wednesday’s forum will be held at 6:30 p.m.

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