Residents Fight Developer's Takeover Of Miami Beach Marina, Monty's
Despite Miami Beach’s reputation for sun, sand and cocktails, there’s hardly any place in the city where visitors can enjoy a waterfront view and a drink, because most of its 7.69 square miles have been taken over by upscale restaurants and hotels or private, luxury condos. At Monty’s Sunset, though, one can still sit under a thatched roof and get a piña colada during happy hour while gazing upon mega-yachts and listening to a salty dude in a tropical shirt strum his guitar.
But if a local developer gets his way during the Nov. 3 elections, Monty’s will be displaced, and yet another luxury tower built in its stead. Renderings show that architect Bjarke Ingels, who is revered all over the world for his forward-thinking creations, designed a tall, skinny building with a wide base. Some critical residents are calling it “The Toilet Plunger.” Evocative nickname or no, some residents think the proposal is a bad idea for the city.
“It’s illegal, it’s wrong, it’s immoral,” Wayne Roberts, a leading critic of the proposed development, told Bisnow.
The controversy centers around the publicly owned Miami Beach Marina at 300-390 Alton Road in the ever-more-expensive South-of-Fifth neighborhood. The marina property includes 400 boat slips, 38 acres of submerged land, and a retail complex that includes Monty’s, a steakhouse and small retailers such as a scuba shop and a deli.
According to a 2,461-page memorandum prepared for the Miami Beach City Commission as it considered the project in July, the property is currently leased by Miami Beach Marina Associates, an affiliate of Suntex Marinas, which operates about 30 marinas across the U.S. For annual rent, it pays the city whichever is greater: $320K or 10% of revenues, plus 2 cents per gallon of fuel sold and 35% of parking revenues. Last year, it paid the city $1.74M.
The city provides the parking spaces by paying neighboring condos $562K annually for space in their parking garages, and it must also pay the state $208K a year for the submerged land. The marina lease is set to expire Jan. 1, 2022, but the tenant has the option to extend it for 30 more years.
This spring, developer David Martin, the CEO of Terra Group, teamed up with Suntex and proposed redeveloping the 3.51-acre marina site. Martin’s team, which has built architecturally notable luxury projects like beachfront Eighty Seven Park by Renzo Piano and Grove at Grand Bay by Ingels, would upgrade the marina facilities and set aside 1 acre as a park that the city would control but the developers could use up to 12 times per year.
Martin's plan also entails displacing the current retail so he could build a new structure — a maximum 385-foot tower with 60 residences, a new marina building and 45K SF of retail space for restaurants and shops. Martin’s entity, Marina Park LLC, would pay the city $55M for 0.3 acres, plus air rights to the larger parcel, and kick in $22.5M in capital improvements, $17.5M of which would be for the commercial building. MB Marina Park LLC, an affiliate of Suntex, would have a new 99-year lease that would let it sublet to an entity tied to Terra. The new lessee would agree to spend $40M improving the marina. The marina's minimum rent due to the city would jump to $1.9M.
To pull this all off, the city would vacate part of a right of way it owns on Alton Way and allow that to add to the project's density. The city would also have to amend some of its land-use regulations and get approval from voters. The city commission has already rubber-stamped legislation to put three related questions on the ballot this Nov. 3.
Roberts is a marketing executive who has lived on Miami Beach since 2015 and is leading the charge against the project. He says the city is not getting enough money for the deal and called the fact that the project was not put out to bid, because it was treated as a lease extension, underhanded.
“The Air Rights to this land are being sold for LESS THAN the price of a corner store front on Lincoln Rd. $55M is a LOW PRICE & a BAD DEAL for Miami Beach resident," Roberts wrote in a post on the activist website SaveMontys.com. "It will likely be several years until the City receives the money & the construction will take many years to complete. This will not help our city’s economy recover quickly post-Covid.”
Another grassroots residents' group, Miami Beach United, is opposing the marina project based on the bonus density, calling the allowance of right of way to calculate floor-area ratio an "unfortunate tactic" it says the city commission has used four times in recent years.
A Terra Group spokesperson defended the development proposal.
“If approved by voters in November, Marina Park and the new Marina Lease will deliver $147M in increased lease payments, a one-time $55M payment to the City and $62.5M in privately-funded capital improvements, including major resiliency improvements, a new one-acre waterfront Marina Park, an enhanced Baywalk, and a fully-modernized Miami Beach Marina,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.
Neither a manager nor an attorney for Monty’s responded to a request for comment, nor did the owners of the scuba shop in the marina complex.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, who has been sending text messages to residents urging support of the project, told Bisnow the deal has been scrutinized as it made its way through city boards.
“I support good examples of smart development,” he said, noting that for decades, South Beach was blighted. Old news stories describe the marina's operators going bankrupt in the 1980s and struggling to keep slips full in the 1990s.
“If we rearrange FAR, you can let people go a little taller," which allows for more density, he said.
The skinny building will allow sightlines from the street to the water.
"Forget that it will bring the city $150M over time. More importantly, it's going to be a world-class marina and a park," Gelber said.
He said the city hired two experts to do outside appraisals.
"I trust [them] to tell us whether the deal was financially wise or not," Gelber said. "We hired people who do this for a living to work for the city, not the developer."
The July memorandum includes CBRE and Walter Duke's appraisals, which valued the air and land rights for the residential portion of the project at $70M and $80M, respectively. An analysis from the city's own planning department lauded the marina project for jobs and revenue and stated there would be "no environmental intrusions."
Citing concerns like traffic and sewage impacts, Roberts said the city's scrutiny of the project has been farcical and complained that elected officials seem to always rubber-stamp developers’ proposals, no matter the impact on residents or effect on the environment.
“The entire commission — the planning board, the land use board, are all padded with developer plants for whatever agenda they have,” he said.
Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, a former city commissioner who is now fighting the marina proposal as an activist, said, “I don’t like to see developers taking advantage of municipal assets.”
“If this campaign wins, what’s next? Nikki Beach? The [public, beachfront] library in North Beach?” she continued. “You're stealing our sunset, robbing our skyline, and ruining our quality of life. So what good is a park cast in shadow?"
CORRECTION, OCT. 15: 1:45 P.M. ET: The restaurant proposed for redevelopment in Miami Beach is Monty's Sunset. A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Monty's Raw Bar as the subject of the plan. This story has been updated.