City of Miami rejects Virginia Key marina bid over “flawed” public process

Attorney Al Dotson and Commissioner Ken Russell
Attorney Al Dotson and Commissioner Ken Russell

Despite an hour-plus long presentation from RCI Group, the Miami City Commission voted on Wednesday to reject all proposals to redevelop the Rickenbacker and Marine Stadium marinas on Virginia Key.

RCI Group was the winning bidder in what commissioners and members of the public called a “flawed” public process. RCI, which currently operates the Miami Beach Marina, submitted plans for a $100 million mixed-use development that would involved tearing down a majority of the 10-acre site and building a new commercial complex designed by Arquitectonica and Pininfarina.

The developer, represented by Bilzin Sumberg attorney Al Dotson, ranked ahead of competitors Suntex and Tifon Miami, but the commission took issue with the community’s objections to the request for proposal (RFP) process – opposition that was led by Commissioner Ken Russell.

Preservationist and historian Arva Parks said at the meeting that the RFP “took the public totally by surprise.” Parks, like others, said that the proposals did not follow the Virginia Key master plan and welcomed “no public input until after it came out.”

Line by line, Dotson sought to disqualify issues that the commission and public brought forward at Wednesday’s meeting. While the main concerns were not with RCI’s proposal but with the RFP process, Dotson said community members had plenty of opportunities to be part of the conversation.

At one point, a spokesperson for the developer said, “To suggest that this plan doesn’t consider the master plan is absurd. I think we’ve done it one better. I welcome the hate mail, just be specific.”

Dotson even pulled out an actual straw man that was “erected to reject all bids,” and then proceeded to take it apart. “You can’t throw out all bids and do so arbitrarily and capriciously,” he said, repeatedly. “The law, not Al Dotson, the law says that is an invalid and unsustainable action.” 

City Attorney Victoria Mendez said the city followed the law throughout the process. “I really do not like the insinuations of counsel,” she said.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

By signing up, you agree to TheRealDeal Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

Dotson and others, on behalf of the developer, said that the Virginia Key master plan and Miami 21 code conflict with each other, and that some specifications like building height were not included in the master plan – although drawings were.

“You wanted an educated and professional [bidder] to read all of that and determine an educated response,” he said. “If you really paid attention the way we did, you wouldn’t have gotten the proposals that you did.”

Arquitectonica principal Bernardo Fort Brescia said the developer’s plans follow Miami 21 code and the master plan, as well as incorporate transparency into the design.

RCI’s three-phase plan for the site broke down as follows:

  • Phase 1: Rebuild innermost wet slips, build the first of three dry docks, retail, parking to the west and a restaurant building
  • Phase 2: Rebuild the remaining slips, build the middle dry dock and parking
  • Phase 3: Build the third dry dock building and parking to the east

The marina projects are separate from the $24 million the city recently invested in renovating a surface parking lot outside Marine Stadium into a flex park and event space that served as the new home of the Miami International Boat Show earlier this year.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Russell said the three-day bid process, standard for the state of Florida, was too short and moved for a new request for proposals that affords Miami residents more input on what can be developed.

“There was no issue with the process … until somebody got selected,” Dotson said.