Is there a path forward for developer David Martin’s vision for the Miami Beach Marina?

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Is there a path forward for developer David Martin’s vision for the Miami Beach Marina?:

Martin willing to move forward on marina lease and improvements despite losing air rights to build tower

The split vote on David Martin’s Miami Beach Marina proposal created confusion that both the City and developer tried to clear up Thursday, though their statements may have initially created more confusion. On Tuesday, voters defeated the sale of air rights to the marina building at 300 Alton Road where Martin wants to build a 385-ft tall luxury residential tower but approved a long-term lease of the marina and planned improvements. By Thursday, Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales and City Attorney Raul Aguila issued a statement saying the intent was clear that the ballot questions were “a package deal” and that the project would not proceed without both referenda passing.

Morales and Aguila indicated they would issue a memorandum to the Mayor and City Commission with a more detailed explanation but issued this statement in the meantime:

“From the inception of the Marina Park Project transaction, the intent of all of the parties was clear. The proposed sale of the air rights for the residential portion of the Marina Park Project, and the extension of the lease for the operation of the Marina, was a package deal. The Marina Park Project would not proceed unless the voters approved both the sale of the air rights and the extension of the Marina lease. This intent is reflected in the various presentations to the City Commission; the numerous Commission Memoranda explaining the transaction; the City Commission Resolution approving the Lease; the Voter’s Guide; and in the agreements themselves.”

Martin, however, issued his own statement indicating he wants to move forward:

“The results of Tuesday’s referendum have left some members of our community confused about the outcome.
“To be clear, a majority of the voters in Miami Beach supported the new 99 year Miami Beach Marina lease and improved financial return to the City’s taxpayers, as well as our vision for investing $40 million in capital improvements to build a world-class marina and related facilities that will address sea level rise and refresh this vital City asset. In addition, the voters approved The Marina Park vision for publicly-accessible open space and a new one acre waterfront public park.
“We have always stated publicly that we are committed to respecting the will of our community. Miami Beach voters have spoken and it is time to deliver on what they supported. Looking ahead, the Marina Park team is committed to working with the leaders of Miami Beach to bring our vision for the Miami Beach Marina to life while responding to the clear majority of residents who support reimagining this vital City asset and economic engine.”

Martin clarified his statement later in an interview, saying "We’ve communicated with the City our desire to move forward with only that aspect of the project and not the air rights or building. I've said I’m committed to deliver as much or little as the community wanted. We wanted to respect the voters."

"We are in dialogue with the City to see what the path forward is for the marina and the lease," Martin said, adding, "We believe that the marina lease has better economic terms, legal terms, resiliency, green space, upgrades to the baywalk, and plans to make it a premier yachting destination" than what the current lease provides. A majority of voters agreed with that vision, he said. "I think that’s an important aspect to respect from the voters as well" but he said he's "looking for guidance" from the City on the next steps.

The development agreement between Martin and the City and approved by Commissioners laid out financial terms of the project and public benefits including a 1.0-acre park and resiliency improvements, but it was dependent on voter approval as required by City Code for the sale of any government-owned property and for long-term leases. 

A copy of development agreement and other pertinent documents cited by Morales and Aguila can be found here but the relevant sections of the development agreement read:

Section 1.1 Voter Referendum Requirement. The parties acknowledge and agree that, pursuant to Section 1.03(b)(1) of the City Code, the Marina Lease and the Purchase and Sale Agreement for the Residential Parcel, each as hereinafter defined, forms of which are attached to this Agreement, and the rights and obligations therein, are subject to and contingent upon the approval of the Marina Lease and the sale of the Residential Parcel by vote of a majority of the voters voting thereon in a City-wide referendum on November 3, 2020 (the “2020 Referendum”) or such later date in 2021 as further described in this Section (each, a “2021 Referendum” and together with the 2020 Referendum, each, a “Referendum”). In the event that the 2020 Referendum is not successful, or if the ballot question is removed or election results are invalidated by a court of competent jurisdiction, then Developer may, within 90 days after the date on which it is determined that the 2020 Referendum was not successful, request that the City Commission consider adopting a resolution calling for a special election for approval of the Agreement in a 2021 Referendum. If (a) the City Commission declines to adopt a resolution calling for approval of the Agreement in a 2021 Referendum or (b) within such ninety (90) day period, Developer either fails to so notify the City or notifies the City that it wishes to terminate this Agreement, then in any such event, this Agreement shall be deemed null and void and the parties shall have no obligations or liabilities of any kind or nature whatsoever hereunder. In the event that, following Developer’s request, the City Commission adopts a resolution calling for a 2021 Referendum and the 2021 Referendum is not successful, or if the ballot question is removed or election results are invalidated by a court of competent jurisdiction, in each case following the last date on which a 2021 Referendum occurred, this Agreement shall be deemed null and void and the parties shall have no obligations or liabilities of any kind or nature whatsoever hereunder. 

Section 1.2 Effective Date. If a Referendum is successful and all requirements of the City Code and applicable law are satisfied, this Agreement shall be effective upon the City Commission’s adoption of a resolution accepting the certification of the official results of the applicable election with respect to the applicable Referendum (“Effective Date”). 

Though the development agreement might be vague on interpretation as to both passing, the relevant paragraph of the Commission resolution approving the development agreement reads:

"As the New Lease and the Sale of Residential Parcel are each subject to approval by a majority of the voters voting in a City-wide referendum pursuant to the City Charter, the Development Agreement would be effective only upon the City Commission’s adoption of a Resolution certifying the election results. The Closing would not take place, and no aspect of the proposed Project would proceed, unless the requisite approval of the voters is obtained for both the New Lease and Sale of Residential Parcel." [Emphasis ours]

As noted in the development agreement, however, Martin may request a 2021 referendum on the sale of air rights. This year, out of 34,601 votes cast, the margin was 768 votes. Again, Martin said he is looking to the City for guidance.

Wayne Roberts, one of the lead opponents of the air rights sale, wrote in a text message that while Martin has the right to ask the Commission to put the question back on the ballot, the Commission doesn't have to agree. "I strongly doubt and hope based on the election results they will not continue this charade. I want to point out Sofi residents soundly voted NO. And they are the most impacted." The marina sits within the South of Fifth (Sofi) neighborhood. The voting precinct there reported the "no" vote was 55.21 percent of the total.

The $40 million for the marina improvements agreed to by Martin was to be spent over 35 years with $15 million in years 1-10, $12.5 million in years 11-20, and $12.5 million in years 21-35. He noted the additional green space and resiliency improvements were part of those plans.

Martin partnered with current Marina operator Suntex on the lease. Suntex is the current leaseholder with an agreement that runs through 2052. Rather than a new lease, Roberts said, "It's time for the City to press the leaseholder to live up to the agreement in place and modernize the existing structure to 'world class condition' as called for in the agreement or cancel the relationship entirely."

Another lead opponent, former City Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, said she would like to see the Commission require a 60 percent referendum threshold on the sale or long-term lease of any public land in the future. In the meantime, she wrote in a text, "If the Miami Beach Commission puts this on the ballot after the electorate said no, I would lose all faith in our Commission. We have some great Commissioners right now, and I don't think they would be amenable to that."

Final Vote Tallies:

On the sale of air rights question, the final tally was 48.88% in favor (16,920) and 51.12% against (17,681), a difference of 768 votes.

On the long-term lease question, 52.36% (18,578) of voters said yes, 47.64% (16,904) no.

More details on the three ballot questions here.

Rendering: Marina, proposed public park and baywalk, courtesy David Martin, Marina Park

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