Developer Jimmy Tate’s plan for a high-end, mixed-use project by Fort Lauderdale’s Bahia Mar marina just hit another snag.
The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, held annually on part of the 39.5-acre site Tate wants to redevelop, has long opposed the project, partly arguing that it would cut the space allotted for the show.
Now, boat show organizers are suing Tate’s affiliate over a lease agreement “gag provision” that bans them from speaking out against the project to city officials and possibly the general public as well, according to the complaint filed in Broward County Circuit Court on Monday.
Then, Tate’s affiliate leases part of the property to boat show owner Marine Industries Association of South Florida, as well as the event’s manager and production company, Yachting Promotions, for the five day-event held each fall.
That lease, signed in June 2017, imposes the “gag provision” that prevents the boat show from discussing Tate’s project directly with city officials.
Jimmy Tate told The Real Deal that the “gag” provision is included in the lease to “prevent backroom negotiations between the boat show and the city,” after the boat show “egregiously” tried to interfere with the project approval process in 2017.
The complaint alleges that it is “unenforceable language,” and that the “gag” only applies to the project as it was proposed at the time the lease was signed. Since then, the development plan has been changed, meaning the “gag” clause is now moot, the suit argues.
Attorney Sigrid McCawley, who represents the boat show owner and manager, said in an emailed statement that a private contract such as a lease cannot “suppress someone’s ability to provide city officials with key information.”
“In our democracy, it is crucial that elected officials have a complete and accurate recitation of the facts before they make decisions affecting public rights,” McCawley, managing partner at Boies Schiller Flexner in Fort Lauderdale, said in her statement.
Fort Lauderdale-based Marine Industries Association declined comment through a representative who answered the main office number.
The Bahia Mar redevelopment has been pending since 2014, Tate said.
The Fort Lauderdale City Commission approved the project in December 2017. But then the city asked the developer to delay the project and tweak the site plan in a way that reflects a compromise with the boat show.
The vision now is for a 256-key, luxury-branded hotel, with 60 of the units hotel-condos; 350 luxury-branded condo units in several buildings; 88,500 square feet of commercial space and about 250 yacht slips at the marina.
The plan also is for roughly 3 acres of public park and promenade space, as well as a marina village open to the public, and waterfront dining.
The plan now includes more open waterfront, contiguous space for the boat show than in a previous site plan, Tate said. In fact, the boat show and its own planner agreed to the new site plan, he said.
Tate’s affiliate, Rahn Bahia Mar, which holds a lease for the site until 2062, first needs city approval for a new 50-year lease with one 50-year extension option.
“It is my professional opinion that this lawsuit is just another attempt by the boat show parties to try to interfere with our ability to negotiate a new ground lease to afford us an opportunity to develop the Bahia Mar property,” Tate said. “It is a shame when a privately held, multibillion-dollar, London-based entity feels that they have more control over our property and our development rights than we do as the leasehold owners of the Bahia Mar.”
London-based Informa also is one of the groups that puts on the boat show. State corporate records show Yachting Promotions, one of the plaintiffs, is led by Charles McCurdy. His LinkedIn lists him as CEO of Informa.
The suit counters Tate’s assertion that the boat show has agreed to the new site plan, alleging that the Bahia Mar developer has even made this statement to the public through a website and mailers, and knows that it is false.
Even though the boat show notified “Bahia Mar that its statements were false and defamatory
on March 8, 2022, Bahia Mar has refused [to] retract its false statements,” the complaint says. “At the same time, Bahia Mar’s interpretation of the gag provision precludes plaintiffs from issuing their own corrective statements to the city and public at large.”
In her statement, McCawley brought up the boat show’s economic impact. It brings about 100,000 visitors annually.
“It is critical that the public and its elected officials are fully informed before making any decisions,” she said. This is why “Marine Industries of South Florida and Yachting Promotions Inc. have brought this lawsuit for a declaration of their right to be able to speak freely about the Bahia Mar proposal.”