Virginia Key marina operator seeks to stave off eviction by suing city of Miami

Rickenbacker Marina Inc. accuses Miami officials of seeking to collect additional rent that is not in the lease agreement

Rendering of Rickenbacker Marina's new boat storage and marina facility
Rendering of Rickenbacker Marina's new boat storage and marina facility

Amid pending approval of a new lease agreement to redevelop the city of Miami-owned boat marina at Virginia Key, the current operator is undertaking a legal maneuver to try to preempt eviction by the city.

In a lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court last month, Rickenbacker Marina Inc. alleges that Miami’s real estate and asset management office is falsely accusing the company of failing to pay an additional monthly rental fee of $100,000 in each of March and April.

Attached to the lawsuit is a May 1 letter from the office’s director Daniel Rotenberg warning Rickenbacker Marina the city would seek to terminate its month-to-month contract and remove the company from the property unless it provides proof the $200,000 for the two months was paid.

Rickenbacker Marina principal Aabad Melwani declined comment. A city spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

Rickenbacker Marina claims it agreed to pay the additional $100,000 monthly fee on a voluntary basis 10 months ago as a goodwill gesture while the company protested the city’s selection of Virginia Key LLC for a $100 million redevelopment project to modernize and expand the marina located at 3301 Rickenbacker Causeway. Virginia Key LLC’s principals are Miami Beach-based RCI Group and Dallas-based Suntex Marinas.

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In its lawsuit, Rickenbacker Marina seeks a court declaration that Miami officials can only evict the company based on violations contained in its underlying lease and a 2015 settlement agreement from a previous eviction attempt by the city over alleged unauthorized improvements at the marina.

According to Rickenbacker Marina’s lease, the firm pays the city a base rent, 15 percent of its dockage and dry storage fees, and 5 percent of its other gross sales for a total of about $1.5 million annually. There is no addendum in the contract formalizing the additional $100,000 monthly payment, the lawsuit alleges.

The dispute over the $100,000 is the latest salvo in Rickenbacker Marina’s ongoing battle to retain control of the marina. Following a city selection committee’s recommendation to award Virginia Key LLC the new development agreement, the Rickenbacker Marina-led Biscayne Marine Partners filed a bid protest on June 27, 2017.

While its protest and subsequent court challenges were pending, Rickenbacker Marina decided to voluntarily pay the city an additional $100,000 a month to offset potential new income from the new contract Miami was losing out on, the lawsuit states. Rickenbacker Marina further alleges that City Attorney Victoria Mendez confirmed it was “purely voluntary.”

“No written, signed amendment to the settlement agreement exists, much less one increasing the monthly rent payment by $100,000,” the lawsuit states. “Therefore, Rickenbacker’s failure to voluntarily make the monthly $100,000 contributions to the city cannot create a basis for Rickenbacker’s removal from the property.”