Plans for a monorail between the city of Miami and Miami Beach took a step forward on Tuesday.
In spite of calls for a deferral from Miami Beach, the Miami-Dade County Commission approved a contract of up to $14 million with Genting Group and Meridiam Infrastructure North America Corp. to study the feasibility of building the monorail within a year to 18 months. The commission would vote on a final plan and contract after the feasibility study is completed, according to a spokesperson for the project.
The resolution passed by a vote of 10 to 2, with commissioners Xavier Suarez and Rebeca Sosa dissenting. Mayor Carlos Gimenez, whose office pushed the proposal forward for a vote, declared himself “neutral,” and did not offer a recommendation on passing or rejecting the item.
The proposal was portrayed as a “baby step” by commissioner Esteban Bovo to explore the feasibility of moving forward with a larger $586.5 million agreement with MDM Partners LLC to build a monorail system across the MacArthur Causeway. MDM Partners LLC is led by Meridiam and Genting.
Meridiam built the $1 billion underwater PortMiami tunnel.
Genting, a Malaysian-based casino company, owns about 30 acres near the Adrienne Arsht Metromover station in Miami’s Omni neighborhood, including the former Omni Mall and the waterfront former Miami Herald site, with the intent of building a resort with a casino. So far, Genting has not been unable to secure legalization for a gambling operation on that land, but it did secure a deal with the county in 2017 to build a 300-room hotel and bus depot near the Metromover station.
In 2019, following a controversial meeting between Gimenez and Genting executives in Hong Kong, Genting made an unsolicited proposal to build a monorail between Miami and Miami Beach. An official request for proposals followed, in which Genting was the only bidder. From there, the issue stalled after the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission and the Office of the Inspector General produced reports on Gimenez’s meeting with Genting executives in 2018. Since then, Genting has reported financial difficulties and its stock value has plummeted.
Another partner in the venture is Rafael Armando Garcia-Toledo, president of G-T Construction, who served as campaign chairman for Gimenez’s mayoral re-election campaign. Gimenez, whose term ends in November, is now running for Congress.
Miami Beach officials have questioned why the county is pushing approval of the interim deal, and approved a resolution requesting a delay. The Civilian Independent Transportation Trust recommended approval by a vote of 7 to 4.
Commission Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson noted that the city has been talking about a rail connection between Miami and Miami Beach for decades. “I am feeling that here we go again, kicking the can down the road,” Edmonson said.
Edmonson and several other commissioners said they saw no harm in approving an interim agreement that they insisted the county could walk away from.
Alice Bravo, director of the county’s transportation and public works, said the contract is an $8 million engineering agreement that would allow the county to own the findings. If Miami-Dade decided not to finalize a contract with MDM, it would only be obligated to pay the partnership another $6 million for the work put into the bid.
The interim agreement will span 18 months, during which time engineers will consult with officials from Miami and Miami Beach, as well as the county.
Commissioners also expressed the desire to move forward with the county’s SMART transit plan. Earlier in the meeting, the commission approved resolutions to look at the feasibility of building stations in six places along the FEC tracks between the MiamiCentral and Aventura station for a commuter train instead of just three. However, the county deferred a deal between the county and Brightline that would allow for such a commuter station.
Gimenez said negotiations with Brightline have “hit a snag” and that he won’t be rushed “on a number that doesn’t make sense.”
Edmonson said she was open to calling a special meeting on approving a contract with Brightline prior to new county officials being sworn in on Nov. 17, but only if Gimenez closes on a deal.