Nearly 14 years after winning the rights to build an ambitious mixed-use development on the publicly owned Watson Island, Mehmet Bayraktar officially opened the first phase of controversial Island Gardens.
On Friday afternoon, Bayraktar – chairman and CEO of Flagstone Property Group, the firm building the $1 billion project – took more than 50 attendees, including Miami and Miami-Dade County officials, on a tour of the expansive floating dock that can accommodate up to 50 so-called “super-yachts,” which can reach up to 550 feet in length.
Soon, the ultra-rich will be docking their luxury yachts against a backdrop that includes the Port of Miami and the downtown Miami skyline, said Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, one of the local elected officials on hand. “I think the most challenging thing was to do the marina because of the permitting process,” Regalado told The Real Deal. “This has been an extraordinary effort and [Flagstone] has done it by the book.”
Already, Island Gardens Deep Harbour Marina will host a second location for the Yachts Miami Beach boat show from Feb. 11-15 featuring 30 to 35 super-sized yachts.
Flagstone is aiming to begin construction on its planned 221,000 square feet of retail and restaurant, as well as two luxury hotels and a residential tower by the beginning of the fourth quarter, Bayraktar told TRD. “The plan is to start the foundations for the new buildings this fall,” Bayraktar said. “Completion is scheduled for 2018.”
Over the next six to nine months, Flagstone will concentrate on building a public green space that includes a promenade connecting the marina to the proposed new buildings, Bayraktar said. He said his company is close to finalizing deals with potential hotel and retail tenants, as well as for financing the remainder of the project.
“We have memorandums of understanding with hotels which I cannot share yet,” Bayraktar said. “The agreements are in the works. The same with the retail. We have a memorandum of understanding with a major tenant from Europe.”
Since voters approved the city’s deal with Flagstone in 2001, the Watson Island development has been marked by delays and controversy. Following the 9/11 attacks and the 2008 market crash, Bayraktar had a hard time obtaining financing for the project. A 2014 deal between Flagstone and the Related Group to partner in the development of Island Gardens fell apart amid staunch opposition from Miami Beach. Meanwhile, an appeal is pending on a lawsuit filed by a group of Venetian Islands residents who allege the city violated its own charter by extending the Flagstone agreement after the developer missed key deadlines.
Nevertheless, Bayraktar said his project is going to produce an economic windfall for the city, county and state. According to marketing information provided by Flagstone representatives, the entire project will generate $98 million during its first three years of operation and more than $5 million a year in revenue sharing and parking surcharge income to the city of Miami.
“I knew what I wanted to do when I received the invite from the city back then,” Bayraktar said. “I had a vision.”