MIAMI – A controversial and consequential question is being posed to City of Miami voters on election day Tuesday on whether to extend the current lease of the Rickenbacker Marina as improvements are needed to modernize it.
At issue is whether the current leaseholders be entrusted with the task or if the city should open it up to competitive bidding.
Aabad Melwani’s family has been operating the Rickenbacker Marina in Virgina Key for close to 40 years.
“My dad about 30 years ago planted all these mangroves that you see here today,” he said.
Voters will decide whether to extend the lease to the Melwanis for another 75 years so they can make improvements to the space but still be gentle to the environment.
“This is what makes Miami Miami,” Melwani said. “This is our most precious resource, this is why we live here, this is why people visit. We need to keep it pristine for our future generations.”
It has been a contentious battle over this valuable city-owned land. Virginia Key, LLC, a company led by two out-of-state investors, has tried twice in the past six years to take over the space and redevelop the 27-acre property.
Miami commissioners have rejected all previous requests for proposals to redevelop the marina and have decided to leave it up to voters.
Virginia Key, LLC is now suing the city to try to stop the vote from counting.
“The referendum item is an effort by the City Commission to ignore the results of two open, fair, and competitive processes, and instead negotiate a lease solely with a losing bidder that lost twice,” a spokesperson for Virginia Key, LLC said in a statement to Local 10 News. “Virginia Key LLC made a better offer and was recommended twice by the City Manager and Evaluation Committees based on the merits of its plan and proposed payment to the City. The City also received another offer even as it approved this referendum. It too was better than the deal that the voters are asked to approve. Nothing in the ballot language informs the voters of these facts.”
But the city maintains the scoring system was flawed. That’s why the commission voted to let the voters of Miami decide if the Melwani’s should continue to hold the lease and build Marina Parc.
“What we’re looking at is either working with them [the Melwanis], who have proven their track record as responsible stewards of the bay, or opening it up to bid who knows what it would turn into,” said Key Biscayne resident Manuel Rionda.
Melwani says his Marina Parc vision is about preserving and restoring this fragile ecosystem.
“It became clear to us at that point that Marina Parc really have the interest of all of Virginia Key at heart,” said Sunny McLean, a founder of the Virginia Key Alliance, a fierce watchdog group protecting the important basin.
The alliance — along with other environmental groups such as Debris Free Oceans, Volunteer Cleanup and Fill a Bag — all support the renewal of the current lease to the Melwanis.
“I saw the plans that the other bidders put forth, and they were really rather glitzy,” McLean said. “There was some extreme architecture, elements that really didn’t fit into the nature of Virginia Key.”
McLean says the Melwanis’ vison fits into the Virginia Key master plan and includes the restoration of mangrove-centric living shoreline, state-of-the-art fully automated dry stack with multiple launch points, two local restaurants, and lots of green space for the public to enjoy, regardless of whether they own a boat.
“This is not just a site for somebody who has a boat,” Melwani said. “This is for pedestrians, this is for cyclists, this is for rowers, for anybody who wants to access this basin who doesn’t necessarily have a boat. Somebody who just wants to swim, or fish or take a stroll with their kids. This should be the place.”
Now the future of the Rickenbacker Marina it’s up to the voters.
Critics say the language on the ballot question is confusing, so we’re going to break it down. If City of Miami voters want the lease to be extended for another 75 years to the Melwani family, vote yes. If voters want the space to be open to other developers for bid, then vote no.