Flagstone Island Gardens can develop on Watson Island, judge rules

Judge will determine damages against the city of Miami at a future hearing

Rendering of Island Gardens with developer Mehmet Bayraktar
Rendering of Island Gardens with developer Mehmet Bayraktar

Mehmet Bayraktar, the Turkish developer behind a long-stalled $1 billion mega-yacht marina and resort project on Watson Island, just won a major court victory that will allow his firm to continue building the development.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas on Thursday ruled in favor of Bayraktar’s Flagstone Island Gardens LLC on all counts related to lawsuits he filed last year against the city of Miami. After a seven-day non-jury trial, Thomas determined Miami elected officials breached a development contract with Flagstone when the city commission voted unanimously last May to declare the company in default because construction had not commenced on the $31 million parking garage and retail component phase of the project.

“The vision we have for this project is alive and well,” Bayraktar said in a statement. “And it will prove transformational for this great city now that we will have the opportunity to finish it. I have never lost sight of the goal or optimism about the result.”

Sam Dubbin, an attorney representing the Coalition Against Causeway Chaos, a group opposed to Flagstone’s project, declined comment because he had not read Thomas’ ruling or court testimony. Commissioner Ken Russell, who spearheaded the resolution to terminate the deal with Flagstone, said that the city has a strong case on appeal.

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“It is clear Flagstone failed to live up to the promises made,” Russell said in an email. “The commission made the right decision and our case is very strong. We are confident to move forward with an appeal.”

Thomas’ ruling also faulted the city for not giving Flagstone time to cure the alleged default before demanding the developer vacate Watson Island. In 2016, Flagstone completed and began operating the megayacht marina, roughly 15 years after Miami voters approved a referendum allowing Bayraktar to build his project on Watson Island. In addition to the marina, the garage and the retail space, Flagstone is supposed to build two luxury hotels.

Thomas will determine damages against the city at a future hearing. Flagstone sued for $122 million, which is what Bayraktar claims is the amount he has invested in the project, which is situated on 24 acres of public waterfront land and submerged land. The developer claimed that preliminary excavation work that started in May 2017 constituted the groundbreaking for the garage and retail component, therefore Flagstone had met a construction deadline set in the lease agreement.

During a May 30, 2017 emergency meeting, commissioners voted 5-0 to declare Flagstone was in default. Mayor Francis Suarez, a commissioner at the time, said the developer had failed to demonstrate the financial ability to build the garage and retail phase on top of not commencing construction.

Flagstone’s attorney Eugene Stearns blamed the causeway coalition for providing commissioners with misleading information that led to their vote against Flagstone. “City leaders were misled by outside forces who turned political opposition into a combat sport,” Stearns said in a statement. “We are hopeful that a different light will dawn over city officials who will find ways to help make this important project successful for the city and its citizens.”