Miami Commissioners Sink Watson Island Development

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – It was to be called Flagstone Island Gardens, a billion dollar project featuring two high-rise hotels, scores of retail shops and restaurants, pretty walking paths and a marina.

Miami voters approved it in 2001.

The marina got built, but Watson Island still lies fallow, devoid of any of the development promised voters a long time ago.

“Clearly fifteen, sixteen years is a long time not to have a project completed,” Miami City Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon said Tuesday.

The developer missed a May 1st deadline – one of many – to have serious ground broken on the massive project.

“This project is an ill-conceived dream, and I believe that it’s done and I think you need to put a fork in it,” resident Robert Zimmerman told commissioners.

Reminded by the developer that voters approved the Watson Island plan, some commissioners noted that it was in bad times and seen as a major economic boost.

“You need to go back to the voters, because we really don’t know right now if the voters’ minds have changed,” Commissioner Frank Carollo said.

Commissioner Francis Suarez seemed to question whether Flagstone, owned by a Turkish businessman, had the financing to get the project done, saying that no bank or mortgage company has funded the project and if there are other investors, they have not been identified.

Critics have long argued a huge development on Watson Island would make awful traffic on the causeway a lot worse, and that Watson Island remains among the last undeveloped waterfronts in the city.

“This development should never have been put before the voters.  Park land should be considered sacred ground,” resident Elvis Cruz told the commission.

An attorney for Flagstone development warned commissioners against cancelling the project.

“Any action to declare default and terminate, with all due respect to the commission, would be a breach by the city and would cause damages in excess of $100 million to Flagstone,” attorney Alan Fine said.

Ken Russell, the commissioner who sponsored the motion to ditch the project on the bay, wasn’t cowed.

“Will we have the political courage today to say that something is wrong and fight for what we know is better for our residents,” Russell said.

In the end, the vote was unanimous, 5-0, to declare the developer in default and put the skids on the Watson Island development.

The vote was met with applause from a crowd largely in opposition to the project.

Brian May, a representative for Flagstone, said it’s not clear what will happen next.

May said Flagstone will react when it learns how city management moves to enforce the resolution that declares the company in default. It is likely there will be a lawsuit.

Flagstone representatives insisted throughout the meeting that the city did not have the authority to terminate the agreement approved by voters, even though the vote was taken more than 16 years ago.

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