New Chalk’s seaplane HQ gets landing clearance on Watson Island

A rendering of the new Chalk's seaplane facility and an aerial view of Miami's Watson Island (Credit: Marc Averette)
A rendering of the new Chalk's seaplane facility and an aerial view of Miami's Watson Island (Credit: Marc Averette)

A new Chalk’s seaplane base of operations on Watson Island is one step closer to take-off.

Thursday evening, the Miami City Commission voted 4:1 to rezone land that had been designated as park space under Miami 21 to allow major institutional, public and transportation facilities.

The vote removes a significant hurdle that stood in the way of Chalk’s plans for a new nine-story building topped off with 341-foot spire that resembles a lighthouse. At the city commission’s planning and zoning meeting, Chalk’s representatives unveiled a preliminary layout and design for the company’s new headquarters.

“What we are about to show is our vision of tomorrow for the Miami seaplane base,” said Marin Kim, a lobbyist for Nautilus Enterprises, which owns Chalk’s. “The design is a work in progress and will most likely change.” Kim also added that Chalk’s is open to scaling back the project at the city’s request.

“If the city commission believes there is a risk of overdevelopment on Watson Island, we will work with city to reduce the footprint,” Kim added.

During her presentation, Kim said the new Chalk’s headquarters would have the terminal on the ground level that would feature passenger drop off and pick up areas, check-in counters, U.S. Customs and Border Protection screening, and a restaurant. The second floor would house Chalk’s operations, offices for U.S. Customs, and third party leasees, she said.

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Kim also said the new building would have a lushly landscaped rooftop garden that would be open to the public and made available to the city to use for media events.

Miami Commissioner Ken Russell had requested the presentation based on concerns that there is too much development on Watson Island, one of the city’s remaining waterfront properties. “I wanted to see today the scope and scale of this project to allow us to discuss the potential of over development,” Russell said. “There is a lot of fear of what  this project could be.”

The city commission’s approval also allows Linden Airport Services, which has a 30-year lease for land next to the Chalk’s site, to build a heliport.

Nautilus and Linden are working out agreements with the city’s semi-autonomous agency, Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority, or MSEA. Nautilus played a key role in resolving a seven-year-old lawsuit between the former Chalk’s operator and MSEA when he invested in the airline.

The former Chalk’s has a history on Watson Island dating back to 1926. The company ceased operating in 2007, following a crash near Watson Island in 2005.

A new 30-year lease between Chalk’s and MSEA was announced in 2014.

Frank Carollo, the city commissioner who voted against the rezoning, said the contract between MSEA and Chalk’s should have been nullified. “I have a serious problem with the way all this has been done,” Carollo said. “These waterfront properties, which happen to be some of the most valuable in the city, have never gone to referendum.”