Miami commissioners reject proposals for marina redevelopment

Top-ranked partnership of RCI Group and Suntex Marinas had offered the city an $80M revamp of both marinas

Biscayne Marine Partners’ rendering of new boat storage and marina facility
Biscayne Marine Partners’ rendering of new boat storage and marina facilityvirgin

For the second time in six years, the Miami City Commission deep-sixed proposals to redevelop two city-owned marinas on Virginia Key.

Commissioners voted 3-2 to throw out all proposals, including an $80 million plan submitted by the top-ranked bidder Virginia Key LLC, a partnership between marina operators RCI Group and Suntex Marinas. The vote, at a special meeting on Monday, effectively granted another reprieve for the second-ranked bidder, Rickenbacker Marina Inc., to continue operating the marinas while the city restarts the competitive process from scratch.

Commissioners ignored Miami City Manager Art Noriega’s recommendation to approve Virginia Key LLC’s proposal and move on to the next phase of seeking voter approval for the projects. New leases for waterfront land require final approval through referendums. Under a 45-year lease with two 15-year renewals, Virginia Key LLC was offering the city a starting annual rent of $2.2 million and 6 percent of revenue.

The city has sought proposals to redesign the marinas on Virginia Key into a state-of-the art commercial complex that would include a robotic boat storage, more wet slips and a restaurant. But every time Miami officials appeared close to tapping a new team to oversee and build the new marina facilities, Rickenbacker Marina cried foul over the selection process and the responsiveness of RCI Group and its development team.

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Aabad Melwani, president and owner of Rickenbacker Marina, which formed a partnership called Biscayne Marine Partners for the latest battle over the two marinas, told city commissioners that his team’s proposal brought the most value to the city and residents.

“We are the only team standing before you today that has developed and is currently running an automated boat storage facility,” Melwani said. “We stand before you offering certainty and stability.”

Al Dotson, a managing partner at Bilzimn Sumberg representing Virginia Key LLC, noted Melwani has been consistently unsuccessful in several legal challenges to overturn a city selection committee’s decision to rank his clients first among the new marina proposals.

“Not a single court has found anything wrong with this process,” Dotson said. “Our principals have continued to build world class marinas across the country, including here in Miami.”

Ultimately, several commissioners found fault with both teams and decided the best course of action was to restart the entire competitive process. Noriega told city commissioners a new request for proposals would take up to three years to complete.